In a world where everyone is busy texting and chatting, more and more parents believe that their little ones should join the fun. In spite of dire warnings about the long-term harm that mobile phone use may wreak on young children’s mental and physical health, we have just passed the tipping point: more than half of British children aged between 5 and 9 own a mobile phone.
Now, in this rapidly expanding market, a major network is about to adopt a range of kiddie-phones designed for children as young as 4, with claims that its handsets are safer and smarter. But can there be any sense in texting toddlers?
Health concerns about the impact of mobile phone use on adults’ brains may have largely subsided but government guidelines still warn that children’s vulnerable grey matter should be protected. Professor Lawrie Challis, an emeritus professor of physics who has led the Government’s mobile-phone safety research, says that parents should not give children phones before secondary school. After that, they should encourage them to text rather than to make calls, as texting exposes their brains to lower levels of electromagnetic radiation.
“We have no idea if they are different in reaction to this sort of radio frequency,” says Challis, “but there are reasons why they may be — children react differently to ionising radiation, radioactivity and gamma rays. If you are exposed to too much sunlight as a child, you are far more likely to get skin cancer than if you are exposed as an adult.”
A disturbing study by researchers at Örebro University Hospital in Sweden last year indicated that children may be five times more likely to get brain cancer if they use mobile phones.