Pediatrics Articles

Electronic Devices and Children: Harmful or Beneficial?

by Dr. Randy

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kids-texting

Despite our concerns, children love electronic gadgets. Babies and preschoolers love iPads, and older children adore their smart phones and video games. These gadgets are here to stay , and the future will bring even more attractive and compelling technology. It is up to us to limit or allow their use.

Harmful EMR

There is no question that electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is bad for humans, and especially for vulnerable and growing children. But a great deal of ambient exposure is unavoidable and inevitable in the form of WiFi, cell phone towers, and smart meters. As far as devices are concerned, the farther the distance from the body, the better. EMR dissipates over distance. Holding a cell phone next to a child’s (or adult’s) head is associated with brain tumors, and the incidence of brain tumors in children is increasing (Gittleman, 2015). Children’s brains are estimated to be twice as vulnerable to the harmful effects of cell phone radiation because of the thinner protective skull and relatively more absorbent brain tissues compared to adults (Wiart, 2008). Even the cell phone industry admits that a safe distance is at least 8 inches from the body.

Babies and preschoolers

An astonishing number of households use electronic devices as babysitters. A 2014 study published in Pediatrics showed that 96.6 percent of preschool children in a low income community used mobile devices, and most started use before age 1 (Kabali, 2015). At 4 years old 75 percent of these children owned their own mobile device. Yet the American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under age 2 should not watch any television or entertainment media, and older children and teens should limit their screen time to one or two hours per day. Most children and families would find these restrictions impossible to achieve, especially for older children who rely on their phones and mobile device screens to communicate and do schoolwork.

Computer Time and Video Games: Good or Bad

There is controversy about the deleterious effects for children of social networking, video games, and educational software. Schools are WiFi connected and many students do most of their schoolwork on computers. How can we establish rules and restrictions that make sense in our modern world?

The fact is that video games and computers in education permeate our culture. In our world one would need to exit the culture to escape screens. You can consider a Waldorf education where screens are not the norm and are highly discouraged. Otherwise you will have to live with them.

There is very little convincing research that video games are either addictive or harmful or associated with violent behavior. In fact, video games require problem solving skills and quick reflexes. They exercise memory and they provide feedback that encourages learning and success. Online games also stimulate networking and community building among kids. If this is the activity that your child chooses for their free time, then I would encourage you to allow them the freedom to choose. At $60-100 a pop video games are not cheap, but they are probably less expensive than a sport, and they don’t entail any driving time on your part.

Similarly, social networking keeps children and teens in touch with each other through instant communication. They communicate easily with vast numbers of friends, fostering social networks and friendships. Of course, this technology can be abused through bullying and inappropriate messaging. Children need to understand the rules of texting and sharing on SnapChat and other popular messaging apps.

Of course children need exercise and fresh air, and they need to complete their schoolwork and  household chores. And they need to sleep. You would probably rather see your kids reading than playing a video game, but many older children and teens see reading as an outmoded, distasteful, and unnecessary pursuit foisted upon them by old-fashioned teachers who are out of step with the current culture.

Should you limit computer and video game time? Some kids cannot resist the distraction of their beeping text messages that disturb their study time, but the same could be said of Lego play. Self-discipline is a necessary skill to develop. Get the homework done, keep up the grades, and do what you love. Children may be passionate about dinosaurs or riding horses or ballet or a sport or a video game (or even reading), but allow them the choice to pursue their interests and become experts at their chosen field of endeavor.

Here are some suggested rules

  • Avoid all electronic device and television use for babies and for preschoolers under age 3 years. Young children need to learn from experiencing the real world and not the virtual world of electronic media.
  • Children and teens should keep cell phones away from their bodies when not in use. The phone is constantly seeking a tower and emitting radiation. Avoid carrying cell phones in a pocket. Keep them in backpacks or purses. Do not allow children or teens to sleep with their phones in the bed.
  • Encourage kids to keep the phone away from their ear by using the speaker or through a video chat. Fortunately, most kids would rather be texting or sharing on their phones than just talking anyway. Talking, like reading, seems to be going out of style.
  • Accept that computers, mobile devices, and even video games are going to be an important part of your child’s life.
  • Teach your children how to use these devices safely, just as you expect teens to drive a car safely.

References:

Gittleman HR, Ostrom QT, Rouse CD, et al. Trends in central nervous system tumor incidence relative to other common cancers in adults, adolescents, and children in the United States, 2000 to 2010. Cancer. 2015 Jan 1; 121(1): 102–112.

Kabali HK, Irigoyen MM2 Nunez-Davis R, et al. Exposure and Use of Mobile Media Devices by Young Children. Pediatrics. 2015 Nov 2. pii: peds.2015-2151.

Wiart J, Hadjem A, Wong MF, and Bloch I. Analysis of RF exposure in the head tissues of children and adults. Physics in Medicine and Biology, 2008 Volume 53, Number 13.

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  • Lianne

    This article comes at a good time, thank you..currently feeling guilty for considering a itouch for my 9 yr old. I have held out for a long time, no video game systems or iPads in this house. Just a laptop between 3 kids, mostly used for educational games recommended as learning/homework by their teachers. As a parent it can be scary entering this age of technology with a preteen! But your right, we have to accept the world is changing, whether we like it or not!!

  • Cynthia

    Great article! Quick question- does keeping a device that has wifi emit the same health dangers as cell phones do as far as emf’s? My children do not sleep or keep them near all day, but when they go out, they will keep them in their pants pockets.