How many kids do you know aged 11 and older that have their own cell phone? In my son’s class of 11 year olds, all but 5 have their own cellphone. And in spite of the school policy being no cell phones allowed on school grounds, they text each other back and forth in class and many of them keep their cell phone in their front pocket all day, turned on. Needless to say, in spite of knowing the data on cell phone risks, my son is really pressuring me to let him buy himself a cell phone!


He knows that an adult male who has a cell phone in his front pocket for one hour has a drastic reduction in sperm count… yes, you can get that sperm count back up, but still, what’s the cell phone doing to a child who has not even reached puberty, or one who is going through puberty? His response: Who cares? I probably don’t want to have kids anyway.

Of course you don’t. You’re 11. Come talk to me when you’re 30. Ooops, too late. Would that be an example of good mothering?

Nevertheless, I do feel his pain. There’s an entire culture now around texting. And he is excluded from the circle, he cannot participate in the conversation and he is outside the community. That’s pretty heavy and pretty nasty for him.

So… if most of his peers smoked, would I buy him cigarettes so that he could join in the group and not feel excluded?

Cigarettes vs. Cellphones Cancer Risk

Some people have said to me that this is not a fair analogy. Hmmm, I thought, well what is the statistical comparison of these two carcinogens (the W.H.O. has classified microwave RF radiation – WiFi, cellphones, iPads, etc. – as a Class 2b carcinogen)? So I went looking…

The increased lung cancer risk for smokers is:

10% increase at age 30
40% increase at age 50

The increased risk of a brain tumor from a cell phone after 10 years of use is:

420% increase for children who start using a cellphone before the age of 20

And then, funnily enough, I found this video by Magda Havas PhD that directly compares cellphones to cigarettes! She looks at the marketing, the industry CYA, and the health effects…

Still, as I said, I feel my son’s pain and I really don’t want to isolate him or make him feel like an outcast. So I go looking for a different kind of stat that just might allow me to justify him having a cellphone. Because I remember my brother saying to me, “Sure the stats may show a 500% increased risk, but if the normal rate of brain tumors in kids is 1 in 10 million, then even a 500% increase is only going to be 5 kids in 10 million – which is actually a very minute risk.”

Brain Tumor Risk

So I go looking for these stats: If the increased risk of a brain tumor to my child is 420%, then what does this mean in terms of real numbers? How many kids out of 100 will actually get a tumor? AND how does that compare to the number of kids who got tumors before cellphones existed? I figure that will give me a really good picture of the ACTUAL risk to my son (and my daughter, who will likely want one next!). Here’s what I find:

In 1970, before cellphones existed, but when there was still plenty of electropollution from power lines etc., the incidence rate of brain tumors in children were:

10.7 brain tumors per 100,000 children

In 2001, there were:

15.2 brain tumors per 100,000 children

so in 2012, after 10 years of use, a 420% increase would be:

64 brain tumors per 100,000 children (or .00064% risk to children of developing a brain tumor)

Well that’s a relief! That actual risk is miniscule. Yay, I’m off the hook and I can let my son have a cell phone, because really, the risk of him getting a brain tumor from using that cell phone is SO low – only .00064%!!

But then I have another thought: I remember my Mum and I talking about why people didn’t care about the radiation risk from these devices and she theorized it was because they just didn’t believe it would ever happen to them. “Look at car accidents,” she said, “More people have died in car accidents than in every war put together, but people get in their cars without a second thought, every single day, and we would not be wiling to go without them.”

Risk of Brain Tumor vs. Risk of Car Accident Death

So this line of thought makes me wonder… If the risk of brain tumors to children is so low that people obviously don’t think it will happen to their child, so they’re safe… then what is the risk of their child dying in a car accident?

Well blow me if I wasn’t in for another HUGE surprise – brace yourself for this one – the actual incidence of child deaths from not just car accidents, but falls, fire and drowning all combined is…

12 deaths per 100,000 children

Say what??

Look at those stats again, side by side:

12 deaths per 100,000 children from car accidents, falls, fire and drowning

64 brain tumors per 100,000 children

Are you kidding me? We are mandated by law to strap our kids in with a seatbelt every time we get in a car, to protect them. We have to strap a helmet on their heads when riding a bike, scooter, skateboard etc. to protect them. We have lifeguards at every swimming pool, lake and ocean and kids under age 6 are not even allowed in the pool unless their parent is with them. These are the safety measures society and all us good parents carry out to prevent 12 death per 100,000 children – a risk of .00012%.

Yet the brain tumor rate in those same children is FIVE times higher – 64 kids per 100,000 and we do NOTHING. In fact, we buy them the carcinogenic device, encourage them to use it to keep in touch with us, and send them happily on their way.

And that’s just looking at brain tumors. We haven’t even looked at leukemia, fertility, genetic damage (DNA double-strand breaks), effects on learning, quality of sleep, and all the other documented effects of this type of radiation. Nor have we looked at the cumulative effect of using cellphones, iPads, WiFi computers, baby monitors, Wii, Xbox, Playstation, cordless phones, smart meters and every other wireless device that uses this same microwave RF radiation.

If we look at these same actual incidence numbers for deaths from lung cancer (age adjusted for white people in the U.S.) from the National Cancer Institute, then they are:

25 deaths per 100,000 for women
80 deaths per 100,000 for men

So, you might as well buy your daughter cigarettes, since they’re much safer than a cell phone!

Great. I’m right back where I started.

The logic then follows that if I’m not concerned about radiation to my children’s heads from cellhphones, WiFi, etc. then I also shouldn’t bother strapping them in with a seatbelt, or getting them to wear a helmet. What’s the point? The risk is so small.

And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to find a caring mother who didn’t make her child wear a seatbelt in the car. Yet that same mother will hand her child a cellphone, have WiFi internet in the house and buy her kids Xbox, Wii and Playstation all with wireless controllers. WHY?

Why Mothers Don’t Take Action

I think there are 3 reasons: Firstly, we just don’t know. We don’t have the data, and like cigarettes, the mainstream media is publishing story after story about how there’s no risk from these devices. Secondly, everyone around you thinks it’s safe and is buying their kids these devices, so there is massive peer pressure to disregard the data – or not even ask the questions in the first place. It’s the “world is flat” syndrome. Thirdly, because we cannot see, hear, smell or feel this radiation, it doesn’t feel real to us and because it takes a long time for the consequences to manifest, we look around at everyone we know using these devices all day, every day, and everyone’s fine – the risk just doesn’t seem real.

Which just makes it that much harder for those of us who are saying no to our kids. My son feels his strongest argument is, “I’m the only one in my class who doesn’t have a cell phone.” He’s sick of hearing the research, he says it doesn’t feel “real” to him when he is surrounded by people using wireless devices. And he views me as cruel and uncaring that I would subject him to such ostracism from his peers. I’m reminded of this article written by a university student, Vices: Smoking Cigarettes To Make Friends where the author writes:

“While countless parents, teachers, and those guilt-tripping Truth commercials have warned me about the dangers of smoking, I really just don’t give a f**k. Sure, I could save myself the health damages and money if I stop now. On the other hand, I’m young and will probably live forever.”

And when my son is in university, well really, by the time he’s 15 or 16 (or knowing him, even younger), I won’t have much control over what he does outside the house anyway.

In all honesty, after all my research, I still don’t know what to do with all this. In a perfect world, the government wouldn’t take industry payoffs and would force industry to make this technology safe – like what is happening in Switzerland.

Is that too much to ask? Or, like cigarettes, will we have to wait 40 years for that to happen?

P.S. In case you want to know what the increased risk of ipsilateral tumor is for adults who use a cell phone for more than 10 years:

Adults glioma (brain): 90%
Adults acoustic neuroma (ear): 60%
Adults uveal melanoma (eye): 320%

Are Cell Phones The New Cigarettes?

8 thoughts on “Are Cell Phones The New Cigarettes?

  • I read your article and this thought came to me… this issue is age old. Parents feel pressure to change their values because the child has a different value. It has been this way probably forever. Here is what I know for sure: a child’s ability to see a situation in its entirety is not developed until who knows when. Thus they have parents. Parents follow their own values until a child has reached maturity to begin to develop their own. Some of those begin while they are still living in your home and the others develop once they are fully independent. When you fight for your child you teach them 2 things I figure: 1) you are worth fighting for. I hate you feeling this way, I hate us being on different pages, but you are worth it. Because I feel so strongly that I am hurting you if I submit to this, and because I love you even more than that I cannot say yes to this. 2) You teach them that it is OK not to submit to the cultures trends when your gut tells you not to. You lead by example. Most definitely he will have a phone one day. He is certain of this. At the end of the day we must be willing to challenge ourselves to consider their wants, but if your gut tells you no, then a wise woman once told me “listen to your gut”!!!

    This is less about a phone and more about just being a parent. I wish you well great lady!

  • I really appreciate reading the issues you struggle with as a parent as well as just someone who wants to be a part of the solution as opposed to the problem. Perhaps one way to deal with this one is leaving the choice of getting a cell phone to your son – which he can do at the same age as when he can legally decide to purchase cigarettes for himself knowing the risks. You have to go with what you know – and I think cell phones are detrimental beyond the radiation. I’ve seen people get into life-threatening accidents with just being preoccupied with talking on the phone. I wonder how many of those car accident stats involved cell phones. I have to confess however, that I was more of a reverse rebel. I absolutely refused to get a cell phone until I moved to Europe last year (and this only because I needed a contact number and have no land line), and I had major peer pressure from friends and family. To me it was a noose around my neck – I just wanted the freedom of not being tracked down all the time. From email to regular land lines – I felt a strong need to leave all gadgets behind for some time to myself to think, walk, or just detach without someone being able to intrude. It later became a badge of honour as people would exclaim with disbelief that I still hadn’t relented. It’s pretty cool not be a follower, and even cooler when it annoys people. When you’re young – you feel invincible. That is why health warnings – be it regarding diabetes, hearing loss, heart disease or cancer – aren’t as real as when you’re older and feeling more mortal. You just have to state that you love him too much to do something that could potentially him in the future, and that he will have to make that decision for himself when he can.

  • I hear you ladies… the piece I am struggling most with is the emotional pain this is causing him. He feels so betrayed by me – that I am not trusting him to limit his use/exposure, that I am not letting him make decisions for his own body. That for him, this is less a health issue and more an issue of relationship.

    And if I knew FOR SURE that 1 hour cumulative exposure per day would result in a serious disease or disability, then I would have no problem taking the hard line and saying no. The problem as it stands, is that there are just too many UNKNOWNS – since this is new technology and they are the first batch of kids to be exposed from such a young age.

    The brain tumor thing we could get around by him keeping it on speakerphone, not carrying the phone on his body, but turning it off or putting it in his backpack, going outside to text, or using an air tube headset, etc. But I just wish there was more data on the sperm/testes effects – especially for one so young – or what about during puberty??

    A new article just came out by Greek researchers on the negative effects on learning, memory and Alzheimer’s. So there is new data all the time, but not enough about kids and not enough for us to know the hard risks…

  • Don’t for a second think that your eldest doesn’t know exactly how much you love him or that he doesn’t appreciate how lucky he is to have you as his mother. He is also aware that you are struggling with this decision and the emotional blackmail is working. We’ve all been there, and we have used it because it works like a charm on a parent who we know would do anything to see us happy and joyful. I also had the best mother that I could have ever asked for. I had most of everything that my parents could give us – but the thing I cherished most was the way they treated me with respect – especially when in the company of others. They would never talk down to me or reprimand me in public – and treated me like an equal and someone smart enough to make important decisions. So, I see what you are saying about the trust issue. However, there were real differences on how this leniency affected myself and my younger brother who was less-confident and sought the approval of his peers for validation. I became a much more stricter guardian of myself as a result of the responsibilty that was put on my shoulders to be a self-aware little “grown-up” who can decide on matters other kids had no choice in; whereas, he still struggles with self-discipline and the idea that rewards come through with sustained effort. There is no right answer – just doing what you think is best for the moment. However, perhaps this decision needn’t be one you shoulder yourself. A family meeting discussing openly the issue and working together on what the best solution is often worked for us – so we each had the opportunity to air our opinions to arrive at the best compromise. Wish you the best as always.

  • Very wise words Ashley – and very interesting to hear about your brother and the different effects on the two of you. That is very profound.

    I’ve talked to two friends of mine who are counselors who work or have worked with youth and they both said pretty much the same thing:

    1. WiFi and cellphones are everywhere. Like drugs and alcohol, if he wants to use them he will. And as he himself has already said to me, “You being so strict about this is just pushing me toward it, so I’m using WiFi at my friend’s houses every chance I get now!” He also gave me an example of how he is listening to his body. He was at a friend’s and the group of them (4 kids) had been on their cell phones, texting non-stop for 2-3 hours and he started getting a headache. So he said to them, “Let’s go outside and kick a ball around.” No one wanted to go. So he said he went outside and kicked the ball around by himself for half an hour, got some fresh air and cleared his head. So, even if I refuse him a cellphone, unless I ban him from all social events (or move to Costa Rica), he will still be exposed to a significant amount of this radiation, from everyone else. And he will use it anyway. So now I’ve set up a dynamic where he is polarized and angry – and making decisions from that place.

    2. So, the best way is a compromise, based on my understanding that this is the age where rejection from the peer group can affect the rest of his life (carrying the feeling, memory, definition of self, onwards). And this is the stage of life where the peer group becomes very important. Unless the child is naturally inner-directed and proud to be a loner, or “weird” (like I was!), then ostracism from the group is very damaging for them. So to have a family meeting, or even just Dad, me and him and work out a way for him to have a cellphone, but with limitations set. Making it clear that I am coming from a place of serious concern for his body (not of trying to control him). Maybe he is only allowed a certain amount of time per day, or a certain number of texts. Make him pay for everything and do not get a plan with unlimited usage. Get a plan where he is charged for every text. Of course, discuss usage, position of device, use of speakerphone, air tube headset, etc. Keep to my existing rule of no cellphones in the home. Perhaps he is allowed to go outside and make a few texts per day while he’s at home. Things like that. So there are still boundaries and so that he understands that the physical risk is still the paramount concern.

    It’s also interesting for me in my exploration of this issue to see my response within myself when I compare my feelings about microwave RF radiation to my feelings about smoking, alcohol, drugs, etc. And I am far more worried about radiation risks.

    I think this is because we have enough evidence that we know what the hard risks and consequences per amount of usage of these other elements is. But with the radiation issue it is such a crapshoot! There is so much that’s unknown in terms of actual incidence, length/intensity of exposure and susceptibility. And WE HAVE NO CHOICE, because it’s all around us and our kids are exposed in school, friend’s houses, music lessons, gymnastics gym, etc etc.

    As my counselor friend said today, “So you basically have to surrender control. Or move to a remote area. Those are really your only options. Or you’ll drive yourself crazy.”

    Surrender. A very interesting and often difficult concept. Again, when I look within, some interesting things emerge: I have no fear of death or my children dying. From my own (multiple) near-death experiences I feel in my core that if it’s not your time, it’s not your time. And if it is your time, you can slip in your kitchen and break your neck.

    What I have a fear of, is disease. Obviously, having had a serious disease, I know how torturous that experience is and I also know how hard you have to work to heal dis-ease once manifested on the physical plane. And quite frankly, I personally, do NOT want to go through that experience again! Not for my kids or anyone. Because if my kids get leukemia, or a brain tumor, I’m back in it 24/7. And I have serious resistance to that!

    But what if I could embrace the possibility that disease functions in a similar way to death? If it’s part of your path (part of your growth, your learning, your spiritual development, etc.) you’re going to be ill. And if it’s not… then you’re not!

    I know there were people who worked in leper colonies and never got leprosy. Did EVERY single person in the Chernobyl area get cancer? Were there any who did not? That would be interesting to know…

  • Again – the serendipity is stunning. I had literally just finished having a conversation on the elusive – if not contrary – concept of surrender when I read your post. In some instances it is the epitome of wisdom and may be the first step to inner peace – on the other hand it is like waving the white flag and giving up your resistance (or your power). The difficulty is knowing in which instance is surrender the way to go. My friend felt that when it came to love and joy – surrender – no questions asked. However, when it comes to harm, hate or injustice – resistance is necessary. Clearly it isn’t as black or white in the real world.

    I can relate to you easily because of our similarities. I too am someone who has always preferred being a bit of a loner (I believe it is called having introverted tendencies) – but I love studying human nature and interacting with people (at my own time). Playing with ideas and figuring how things work are a joyous pastime – as is finding outlets of expression. I need people like my brother to keep me balanced and to get lost in the moment. We are opposites and perfectly complementary. Your sensitivity to your son’s needs for social support and acceptance probably do more for his resilience against harms of all stripes than putting him in an unsustainable bubble. The impact of mental health and social support against oxidative stress has been well-documented. So your call seems to be a good one – to surrender to love and the things you can’t change, but to put up those safeguards against those ills you have the power to resist.

    Keep that wonderful mind exploring – and sharing the journey.

  • In terms of addiction, cell phones are very much similar to cigarettes.
    However, I guess the damage from smoking and other factors such as ecology, unhealthy food, microwave is much worse. Eliminating these things would do a better job that not buying a cell phone. “420% increase for children who start using a cellphone before the age of 20”. But what does “using a cellphone” means? Talking 5 hours a day? Or just one minute and keeping in in the sack? I think there is difference. I would just instruct my child how to use it – not to put it beside his head when sleeping etc. Driving a car is also dangerous, but we have to use cars today, it’s life.

  • I thought I’d share this new research that was just published in a Nature-affiliated journal (i.e. a highly regarded top ranking in journal for scientists) called Scientific Reports that show cell phone use in pregnancy may cause behavioural/mental disorders in the offspring. A lay overview of the findings can be read here: The actual study citation is: 1.Tamir S. Aldad, Geliang Gan, Xiao-Bing Gao, Hugh S. Taylor. Fetal Radiofrequency Radiation Exposure From 800-1900 Mhz-Rated Cellular Telephones Affects Neurodevelopment and Behavior in Mice. Scientific Reports, 2012; 2 DOI: 10.1038/srep00312

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