Since the explosion of technology in the last twenty years, we have encountered a backlash of parents and experts who worry about the implications of these gadgets on our children's health:
Video games promote violence!
Lack of communication skills!
Texting and driving!
The list goes on and on. I loved this piece from Yummy Mummy Club, basically telling parents to chill out. Spencer's rules are simple: enjoy in moderation, know what your kids are up to, and be actively involved in their interests.
But what if there were a scarier side to tech gadgets?
As a health researcher, I see many interesting presentations from folks all around the world. Last week I saw a speaker named Dr. Devra Davis, who is the President of the Environmental Health Trust - a US non-profit that educates the public about controllable environmental health risks and policy changes needed to reduce those risks. One of these risks may be cancer, linked to our exposure to microwave radiation from cell phones, WiFi and other wireless devices. Despite her long list of accomplishments, she often receives slack from skeptics who question the data she's using.
And rightly so - the evidence that tech gadgets cause cancer is widely disputed. The WHO has classified the electromagnetic fields produced by cell phones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." Unfortunately there's just not enough good quality evidence to say for certainty.
So, what did I take away from this presentation? Here it is in a nutshell:
- Data is emerging that shows a link between microwave radiation and our health
- Think about any public health issue - climate change and smoking are two biggies that come to mind. How long did it take from the first scientific data to emerge (e.g. cigarettes cause lung cancer) to a change in public policy? YEARS. When it comes to our children, how long are we willing to wait?
- Banning cell phones and WiFi is not the answer - tech is here to stay. But how can we make it safer?
I left the presentation slightly spooked, but I also didn't want to jump to conclusions and scare everyone else (or worse, be dismissed completely as a bit of a kook). But further reading still leaves me uneasy, and I've decided to take steps to protect my kids and my family. Children's brains are very different from adults - they absorb more radiation, and are growing. Here's what we're looking to do:
1. Turn off the WiFi: this is already something many parents do, to prevent kids from being on their phones at all hours of the day. We don't use the WiFi from about 10pm until 6am, so we're looking at getting a timer
2. Airplane mode: from now on, my kids won't be allowed to use our iPhones unless they are on airplane mode
3. Distance: Have an iPhone? Go into your Settings, click General and then About. If you scroll all the way down you will see "Legal" - click on that, and then click "RF Exposure." What does your say? Mine recommends I carry my iPhone 10 mm away from my body to ensure exposure levels remain at or below the as-tested levels. So MEN - stop carrying your cell phones in your breast or back pocket. LADIES - no cell phones in your bras! And it's time for me to get a headset!
4. Corded landline: we were about to cut our home phone, but now I'm thinking we might keep it AND get a corded phone....do they even make those anymore?
5. Avoid freaking out: it's easy to feel both scared and helpless when dealing with issues that are out of our control. It's important to remember that we are faced with risk every day of our lives - we get in our cars and risk getting into a car accident. But seat belts help to protect us. So instead of freaking out, I want to think more about how I can make cell phones safer.
What is the one principle that is drilled into the heads of healthcare students? First, do no harm. Well, the harm data has emerged, and I'm inclined to do something about it before it's too late.
What do you think? Will you take steps to protect your children?