It is rare to see a teenager (and even some pre-teens) without a mobile in the UK at the moment. The advantages of being able to keep in touch at all times may be useful to parents, but many worry about mobile phone safety. Are mobiles safe for children? How can parents make kids use them in a sensible way to minimise possible health problems in the future?

Are Mobile Phones Safe?

There is ongoing speculation that mobile phone use may be harmful. Some believe that heavy usage can be linked to the development of some cancers and diseases of the nervous system. At this point in time, however, there is no concrete evidence available that parents can use as a definitive guideline.

Mobiles have been used for a relatively short number of years and research is in its infancy. The European COSMOS survey, for example, is an ongoing project that will monitor the effects of mobile phone usage over 20-30 years. So, there may be no hard answers in the near future.

Mobile Phone Safety and Kids

One of the problems facing parents worried about mobile phone safety for children is that much of the research and the guidelines set by governments are targeted at adults. The COSMOS survey, for example, monitors those aged over 18. SAR (specific absorption rate) limits that may be shown on phones to measure radio wave energy levels may more applicable for adults.

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According to the Department of Health’s Mobile Phones and Health publication, the issue for children (i.e. those aged under 16) may be that they are still at a developmental stage. The fact that mobile phones can affect brain activity may mean that problems are noted in the future. The recommendation here is that parents try to monitor usage to minimise problems that may happen to be on the safe side.

Mobile Phone Safety Tips for Parents and Children

Parents can take steps to control mobile phone usage that may be useful. Much evidence points to frequency of use as a potential problem and getting a child into sensible habits early may, therefore, be worthwhile. Parents may want to think about:

  • The example they set: A parent that has a mobile on 24/7 and that is a heavy user making prolonged calls sends a message to a child that this behaviour is OK. Children are far more likely to use phones sensibly if their parents do.
  • The handset they give: All handsets sold in the UK should state a SAR level. Some mobile phone comparison sites will list levels so this is worth looking for as it may help find models with lower rates.
  • How the phone is used: Texting is considered to be safer than making a call as it removes the phone from the head area. Shorter calls are generally considered to be better than longer ones. Hands-free devices may also be worth considering.
  • Picking the right plan: Thinking carefully about whether to use PAYG or contract may help limit usage. A child with a limited Pay As You Go credit is likely to use a phone less than one with an unlimited calls or texts plan.
  • When to give a mobile: It may be important to give a child a mobile phone at the right age and not simply when they want one. Younger children may have no real need for a mobile.
  • Who pays for a plan: A child that has to pay for top-up credit or a contract themselves may use a mobile less than if their calls/texts are funded by parents. Alternatively, try setting a weekly/monthly limit (and sticking to it!).

Given that so little is known about whether mobiles are safe for children, many parents prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to mobile phone safety. Thinking hard about when to give a phone and how usage can be monitored may be worth considering.