The mobile phone revolution has made life better in a lot of ways. But what are the downsides to this wonderful technology? It’s so recent that we don’t know much about mobile phone safety in the long term. It’s gotten to the point where almost everyone is using one all the time. If we’re not talking or texting, we’re surfing the Internet, playing games or watching movies.
What do we know about safer mobile phone use? The US Federal Communications Commission set legal limits on mobile phone (microwave) radiation exposure way back in 1996, when phones were extremely primitive compared to today’s all-singing all-dancing devices. They say that 20 cm is far enough away for safe use. How often do you hold your mobile 20 cm away when talking on the phone? Do you hold your tablet or laptop 20 cm away while using it?
The main problem when it comes to research on mobile phone safety (aside from the billions of dollars at stake), is that it may take years, even decades, of use to show an effect on the body. Right now, there’s not enough research to say what the effects might be.
In general, it’s safe to say that children are at much higher risk than adults. They are more affected by the radiation because of their smaller heads, thinner skulls and more absorbent brain tissue. Children’s brains absorb twice as much microwave radiation as adults’. Their short arms can’t hold mobile phones and tablets far enough away from their bodies. To cap it off, kids and teenagers will happily spend all day on their devices without firm guidelines from the adults in their lives.
We could all use some mobile phone safety tips. Tech-forward countries such as France, Belgium and India have already passed updated laws and issued warnings about children’s mobile phone use.
For safer mobile phone use, keep the following rules in mind.
1. Use a headset or keep your phone on speaker
You want to limit radiation exposure to your head as much as possible. The ‘generally regarded as safe’ distance is 20 cm, which should be the minimum. Use a headset (either wired or wireless) whenever possible. Wireless headsets emit much less radiation than mobiles, but make sure to take them off when you’re not using it.
If you don’t have a headset handy, keep your phone on speaker while talking.
2. Hold the phone away from your body
Be aware of your phone’s distance from your body (it’s still emitting radiation even when not in use). Using a headset while talking won’t do much to keep you safe if your phone is in your pocket all the time. If you’re pregnant, always remember to keep the phone away from your belly – there is some evidence that foetal development can be affected by mobile phone use.
The good news is that even holding the phone 15 cm away “provides a 10,000-fold reduction in risk”. (This goes for baby monitors too. Don’t place them in your child’s cot.)
The best place for your mobile phone is inside a handbag or backpack, or on your desk or bedside table. Don’t keep it in your pocket or under your pillow at night. This is especially important for children and teenagers.
3. Talk less and text more
Texting tends to keep your phone away from vulnerable areas, such as your brain. Your phone also emits less radiation while texting as compared to talking.
4. Call when the signal is strong
Mobile phones have to work much harder to connect when the signal is weak. There’s less radiation exposure when the signal is strong.
5. Set firm limits with your children
Mobile phone safety is most important to the most vulnerable members of our family. Even if mobile phone use is eventually proven to be absolutely safe, children weren’t meant to grow up staring at a screen for hours every day. They need to get out in the fresh air and socialise with real people instead of watching videos and playing games all the time.
If your kids are accustomed to unlimited use of their mobile devices, they won’t like the limits at first. The best way to teach safer mobile phone use is to model it for them. As we all know, children do what you do, not what you say.
Have a frank talk and explain your concerns in an age appropriate way.
Put your phone away and your kids will follow suit.
Play outside with them. Read to them, or play a board game together.
Above all, show your leadership by accepting the limits on yourself first.
Mobile phones have brought a lot of convenience, fun and connection into our lives. Follow these mobile phone safety rules so you and your children can continue to enjoy them in safety.