There is a great deal of concern
among parents about the role of screen time in the lives of young
children. However, not as much thought is given to the biological
effects of computers and the other electronics in our children’s lives,
right from the time they’re born, and even before.
There is a great deal of concern
among parents about the role of screen technologies in the lives of
young children. Many families limit screen time in favor of creative
play, time in Nature, and face-to-face interactions. The American
Academy of Pediatrics and other public health organizations have stated
that many young children are spending too much time with screens—and
that screen time should be discouraged for infants and toddlers, and
limited to one or two hours per day for older children. On the other
hand, our children are growing up in a technological world and other
parents argue that they must learn to use it wisely from a young age,
and that research shows computers can contribute to learning.
Photo (c) Alexander Motrenko/Shutterstock
There is truth to both sides of
the screen time discussion, and each family will find its own balance.
However, not as much thought is given to the biological effects of
computers and the other electronics in our children’s lives, which is
the subject of this article.
It has been said that we live in
an “electronic smog” – an invisible cloud of electromagnetic radiation
that the World Health Organization (WHO) calls “one of the most common
and fastest growing environmental influences.”
The electrical wiring,
computers, and any alternating current (AC) electrical appliances in our
homes and commercial buildings create electromagnetic fields (EMF) – one
component of the “smog” – even, in many cases, when nothing is turned
on. The fields rapidly decrease with distance but appliances such as
hair dryers and electric shavers, used close to the head, can give high
exposures. Electric blankets and clock radios sitting beside beds
produce even higher doses because people are exposed to them for many
hours while sleeping. Those high tension wires that carry electricity
through many neighborhoods are also culprits.
Radio frequency (RF) fields –
yet another component of the “smog” – are emitted by microwave ovens, TV
and radio transmitters, mobile phone masts, and cell phones themselves,
as well as by wireless “smart meters” that are being installed in many
houses, and by those wireless baby monitors that supposedly give new
parents such peace of mind.
The idea of this dangerous
“smog” used to be derided by many people. But many governments,
researchers, and medical associations are now taking it seriously as a
potential health danger. The WHO says that the smog could interfere with
the tiny natural electrical currents that help to drive the human body. Researchers have begun to correlate RF exposure with diseases
such as cancer, neurological disease, reproductive disorders, immune
dysfunction, and electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
As far back as the 1950s, it was
found that relocating asthmatics to areas of low electrical fields
eliminated their symptoms. But it took until 1998 for an international
panel of researchers meeting in Vienna, Austria – including a professor
from Queens University in Canada and a representative from the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency – to agree that the biological effects
from low-intensity exposures to EMF are well-established.
with other potential health hazards, children are at greater danger
than adults. One study found that a child’s growing body can absorb
up to ten times the radiation an adult’s body absorbs."
As with other potential health
hazards, children are at greater danger than adults. One study found
that a child’s growing body can absorb up to ten times the radiation an
adult’s body absorbs.
Magda Havas, a professor at
Canada’s Trent University who has studied the effects of wireless
technology on human health, issued an open letter in 2009 saying she was
“increasingly concerned” about Wi-Fi and cell phone use in schools. “It
is irresponsible to introduce Wi-Fi microwave radiation into a school
environment where young children and school employees spend hours each
day,” she wrote.
David Carpenter, MD, Director of
the Institute for Health and the Environment, School of Public Health,
University of Albany, New York, has said: “Based on the existing
science, many public health experts believe it is possible we will face
an epidemic of cancers in the future resulting from uncontrolled use of
cell phones and increased population exposure to Wi-Fi and other
wireless devices. Thus it is important that all of us, and especially
children, restrict our use of cell phones, limit exposure to background
levels of Wi-Fi, and that government and industry discover ways in which
to allow use of wireless devices without such elevated risk of serious
disease. We need to educate decision-makers that ‘business as usual’ is
unacceptable. The importance of this public health issue cannot be
The National Association for Children and Safe
Technology (NACST) announced in February of 2015 that it is taking
action after two recently published studies indicate there is sufficient
evidence demonstrating that exposure to wireless radiation causes
cancer. NACST is calling on children’s health and cancer prevention
organizations to make the issue of children's health and exposure to
wireless radiation in educational settings an immediate priority for
Professor of Oncology Lennart Hardell, MD, PhD, and Statistician Michael
Carlberg of Orebro University Hospital, Sweden found a three-fold risk
with twenty-five or more years of cell and cordless phone use in a study
published October 2014 in Pathophysiology. Very significant was
the finding that people who first used mobile or cordless phones before
the age of twenty had the highest risk.
Increased wireless phone use also correlated with lower survival rates
for people diagnosed with the most malignant gliomas in a second study
published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and
Public Health by the same researchers. In both studies, the authors
state that RF-EMF should be regarded as a human carcinogen, “requiring
urgent revision of current exposure guidelines.”
Wireless Baby Monitors
But back to those wireless baby
monitors. There are many different models, with widely varying ranges,
transmission settings, frequencies, and emission levels. In some cases,
both the base (which is kept near the baby) and the receiver (which the
parent typically carries) are capable of transmitting and receiving, so
the parent can “talk back” to the infant; these units are continuously
emitting radiation. Some types do not transmit signals continuously, but
only when a certain sound level is reached, and some cut out the
unwanted noise but not the constantly emitted radiation. Some monitor
whether the parent unit is still within range of the baby unit by
transmitting brief test signals every few seconds.
The Swiss Federal Office of
Public Health has studied wireless baby monitors. Emissions were found
to decline very rapidly as the distance from the device increased, and
to be consistently below their recommended limit, even at a distance of
twenty centimeters (eight inches) using the most powerful device tested.
Alasdair and Jean Philips of the
British non-profit PowerWatch have also researched a variety of baby
monitors. They note that most of the popular monitors use DECT cordless
phone technology (1890 or 2400 MHz), which approaches microwave oven
frequency. They have found these monitors to be “disruptive of the
infant’s sleep and state of contentment” (causing restlessness,
irritability, and crying). These multi-channel monitors emit sharply
pulsing bursts of microwave radiation on a regular basis, which likely
is the problem. Plug-in and wired units (that use your home’s electrical
wiring to communicate between units) do not pulse and don’t seem to
bother sleeping infants, they claim. In their research, the older type
of low-band (35 to 50 MHz) analog monitors also didn’t seem to affect a
sleeping baby if kept at least one meter away. PowerWatch also found
that a wireless baby monitor at less than one meter away from the baby’s
crib resulted in roughly the same amount of radiation experienced from a
cell phone tower located one hundred and fifty meters (five hundred
So should you use a baby
monitor? Trent University’s Dr. Magda Havas puts it bluntly. She says,
“Exposing infants to microwave radiation, even at very low levels, is
unwise. Since technology is available to provide voice-activated baby
monitors…the baby monitors that emit microwave radiation continuously
should be banned.”
The best way to keep track of
your baby is in person. But if you feel you must have a baby monitor,
then use one of the old style corded models that you can probably find
at a garage sale for next to nothing. (Be careful of that cord so your
baby can’t get ahold of it and strangle herself, and plug the adaptor in
as far as possible from the baby to minimize the EMF). Otherwise, don’t
place the baby monitor in the crib, avoid using a system that transmits
continuously, and set the baby unit to voice/sound activation mode.
Fetal Exposure During Pregnancy
The science is young, but there
is a developing body of published research suggesting that a woman’s EMF
exposure while pregnant may directly affect the health of her fetus.
Findings include correlations with childhood asthma, accelerated rates
of embryonic development, DNA damage, negative neurological effects,
immune system disturbances, weakened bones, brain tumors, leukemia,
behavioral problems such as ADHD, and even autism.
There is also at least one study
which found that exposure to EMF can affect miscarriage rates.
Even though the levels of
radiation emitted from, for instance, a baby monitor are relatively low,
radiation exposure from wireless products is chronic and cumulative, and
a child’s environment may include many devices at once. While we can’t
protect our children from being exposed to radiation from cell phone
towers, public wireless networks, and other people’s mobile and cordless
phones, there are some things we can do in our own lives to decrease our
children’s exposure to the electronic smog.
So to protect your children here
are some things to consider:
Avoid chronic, constant exposure
to wireless devices at close proximity to you and your baby.
Avoid using a baby monitor or
choose one carefully.
Don’t allow young children to
use mobile and cordless phones, especially held next to the head.
Keep your own calls on cellular
and cordless phones as short as possible if children are nearby, and
turn your cell phone off when the call is completed.
Remove wi-fi and wireless
products from your home, or disconnect the wireless router at night or
when it’s not being used.
Keep your portable phone base
unit as far away as possible (three rooms or a different floor) from
where you and your baby spend most of your time.
Switching your phone or tablet
to “Airplane Mode” will allow access to many applications but reduce
When pregnant or with an infant,
avoid prolonged visits to public places where wireless connections are
Keep your wireless devices away
from your pregnant belly and don’t sleep with them in your bedroom.
Avoid setting your laptop or
tablet across your young child’s legs when it’s online.
A Wellness Guide for The Digital
Age: With Safer-tech Solutions for All Things Wired &
Wireless by Dr Kerry Crofton (Global WellBeing
EMF Book: What You Should Know
About Electromagnetic Fields, Electromagnetic Radiation & Your Health by
Mark Pinsky (Grand Central Publishing, 1995)
The Invisible Disease: The
Dangers of Environmental Illnesses Caused by Electromagnetic Fields and
Chemical Emissions by Gunni Nordstrom (O Books, 2004)
Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young
Children, Technology, and Early Education by Susan Linn, Joan Almon,
Diane Levin (The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the
Alliance for Childhood, 2012) www.allianceforchildhood.org
“Do Cell Phones and Other
Gadgets Affect Our Health?” in Natural Life Magazine, January/February
Wendy Priesnitz is Natural Child Magazine's
founding editor; a journalist with over 35 years of experience; the
author of twelve books about green living, natural parenting, and
alternative education; and a contributor to many others. She is also the
mother of two adult children and the step-grandmother of two.