Kids and cell phones. They seem to be inseparable these days. But is that a good thing? In recent years, you may have heard rumors about them causing brain cancer and other diseases. Is this claim based on any research? Is handing your child a cell phone equivalent to handing her a cigarette? Or is this some bogus claim made up to try to scare us away from beneficial technology?

Dr. Devra Davis, author of Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family, is one of the major scientific figures who is trying to spread the word about the dangers of cell phone use. Is she a scam artist? Actually, Davis is the winner of a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, former presidential appointee under Clinton, former professor of epidemiology at several respected universities, and a National Book Award Finalist. And she believes that cell phones can kill.

“Cell phones are essentially two-way microwave radios,” Davis explains. “They have never been tested for safety. They have been assumed to have no biological effect, but now we are finding that that’s just not true. They may be much weaker in power than regular microwaves, but because they utilize a pulsed signal, they can weaken the brain-blood barrier, produce free radicals, and cause other harmful health issues.”

The Research

When you first look at the information we have on cell phone use, you may think that the research is inconclusive. After all, some studies find that cell phone radiation is at a safe level, whereas others find that it can cause health problems. Davis, however, stresses the difference between these two types of studies.

Many of the studies that have “proven” the safety of cell phone have focused solely on brain cancer. “Brain cancer is the wrong thing to focus on at this point, because it can take forty years to develop,” Davis explains. “We know that because when the bombs dropped at the end of World War II, there was no increase in brain cancer until forty years later. But whether or not brain cancer is a concern, cell phone radiation has been proven to cause a host of other biological effects.”

The Effects of Cell Phone Radiation

  • Studies have shown that cell phone radiation can reduce sperm count in healthy adult males.
  • Animals that have been exposed to cell phone radiation prenatally have been born with a higher percentage of behavioral problems and learning disabilities. Studies done in Turkey and Greece have shown that these animals have an increased risk of liver and brain damage as well.
  • Cell phone radiation has been shown, in long term studies, to cause cancer in various areas of the body, specifically based on where the cell phone was held while powered on. For example, women who have carried their cell phones in their bras have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the middle of their chests. In May of 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared cell phone radiation as a “harmful human carcinogen”—putting it in the same category as lead, DDT, and engine exhaust. “Would you give your child DDT, or lead, or a car engine to play with?” challenges Davis. “Then why do we give them cell phones?”
  • Russian studies have shown increased behavioral and learning problems in children whose mothers used cell phones during their pregnancies.

Are Cell Phone Risks Greater for Children?

Many parents, who use cell phones themselves, wonder whether the risks are even greater for their children. The answer is—yes.

In June of 2012, the FCC announced that it plans to reexamine and revise current cell phone standards. Good thing, since the last time the standards were revised was in 1996, and the standards were geared towards a military man or business man dubbed “SAM”—or “standard anthropomorphic male”—who was six-foot-three, weighed 220 pounds, had an 11-pound head, and made phone calls that lasted up to six minutes. The American Academy of Pediatrics urged this reexamination, telling the FCC, “Children ... are disproportionately impacted by all environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation ... when [cell phones are] used by children, the average RF energy deposition is two times higher in the brain and 10 times higher in the bone marrow of the skull, compared with mobile phone use by adults.”

Just take a look at the fine print warnings on your Blackberry, Android, or iPhone. Most versions of these devices warn that the user should keep the phone away from teenagers or pregnant women. Are we putting our children at risk?

What Parents Can Do

As a parent who cares about your child's wellbeing, what can you do? Despite the fact that the new safety standards have not yet been written, you can still take the following steps to keep your kids safer from the damage that radio-frequency radiation can cause:

  • Turn phones off when they're not in use. Teach your kids to keep their phones on airplane mode, or off, when they are not in use. The radiation is harmful even when the phones are merely powered on, even if they are not actively using them.
  • Avoid cuddling with smart devices. Show your kids to keep their phones away from their bodies at all times. That means using a headset or Bluetooth and storing the phone in a bag rather than on their bodies—such as in their pockets, on their belts, or in their bras.
  • Beware of weak signal strength. When your cell phone has to work harder to find a signal, it is emitting a larger amount of radiation than normal.
  • Resist the temptation to hand your phone over. Don't give a cell phone to an infant or young child as a toy, unless it is in airplane mode. Instead, try to engage your little one in offline activities, such as reading or playing with toys.
  • Inform your kids in age-appropriate ways. Let your older child or teen see videos of the damages that cell phones may cause, such as the case of Donna Jaynes. You can view them here, on Dr. Davis’s website.

If you're concerned that your children have already been exposed to harmful amounts of radiation, don't fret—recent evidence shows there are ways to detox after exposure. Make sure that your children get plenty of nutritious food, including vitamins such as A, E, and C. Some experiential studies suggest that animals that were exposed to these nutrients were able to resist the damage of radio-frequency radiation more easily.