Should Parents Worry About Radiation from Smartphones?

by Anna Hughes on 26/09/2018
As long as there have been smartphones, there have been claims that they're dangerous. Sometimes, this danger is real and concrete. For example, there's a reason police officers pull you over if you have your phone in your ear while you're driving. Other times, dangers can be psychological. And sometimes, claims of smartphone danger can be vague yet frightening, like claims that “radiation” from your cell phone can cause cancer. Are our phones a radioactive risk to our kids? No, probably not. But it's worth knowing why these claims are being made, and lessons we can learn.
Teenage girl holding up her mobile phone taking a selfie.

Is there a risk of radiation from their smartphones?

Radioactive Phones? Not So Much

First, we need to understand a few scientific terms and concepts. First of all, “radiation” is simply a term that means “emitting electromagnetic energy.” Almost everything that exists emits some form of this: Human beings, for example, emit heat, or infrared radiation. The “radiation” that allegedly causes cancer is called “ionizing radiation,” extremely high energy radiation like x-rays, which can damage DNA. Your phone doesn’t have a battery powerful enough to emit ionizing radiation; think about the size of the x-ray machine you see at the dentist.

Some will also say they can “feel” the electromagnetic waves, that smartphone signals or WiFi signals cause them discomfort or even extreme pain. Whether this is a medical condition or psychosomatic is under heavy debate, but it’s a rare phenomenon, regardless.

The case is not necessarily closed, however. It’s possible, if perhaps unlikely, that perhaps a specific wavelength of non-ionizing radiation, if you’re exposed over an extremely long period of time, might cause cancer or other medical problems through a mechanism we haven’t discovered yet. This is the basis of those statements you read about keeping your phone in a bag or on your desk instead of in your pocket. The logic is simple: If there’s no risk, then it’s a mild inconvenience. If there is risk, you’ve thought ahead. Besides, there are good reasons beyond a possible health risk to consider a “bag rule” in your household.

Young teenage girl looking at her smartphone with a surprised expression.

Keep Phones Away

Even if there is no risk for cancer due to smartphone radiation, it’s still a smart idea to mandate phones are kept out of pockets and in bags. Part of this is the idea of “friction,” that is, the more steps and the harder it is to do something, the less likely people are to do it. If somebody has to reach into their bag and pull out their phone, it’s a little more effort than reaching into their pocket, and a little less convenient to take out in situations where they should have them, something adults and kids alike should consider.

Another aspect is that it prevents grabbing a phone from being an automatic action. We can fairly easily fall into a behavioral loop when it comes to our phones, using them to fill every free moment and to fill in every awkward silence. If we have to work a little harder to fill those emotional spaces with phones, we’re a little less likely to do it. Parental control software is another tool parents use to place limits on kids’ smartphone use.

In the end, once you set aside the preliminary and inconclusive science of smartphone radiation, what you’re left with is a reminder that we simply don’t know the long-term effects of these technologies. But why take the risk? Parental control apps for smartphones can perform double duty, by enforcing smartphone behavioral boundaries with kids, and by helping kids to interact with the world without having a phone in their hands at all times. To learn more about keeping your family’s smartphone use in line, contact us.

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Should Parents Worry About Radiation from Smartphones?
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Should Parents Worry About Radiation from Smartphones?
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Parents may be worried about smartphone apps, but is radiation a concern?
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