Cell phones are synonymous with teenagers, and they carry risks: traffic accidents, quite emphatically; and, more debatably, brain tumors.

The causal connection between cell phones and brain tumors has been suggested for awhile, but it’s a matter of dispute. A 2013 study by researchers in New Zealand warns that high cellphone use in young adolescence puts kids at increased risk of brain tumors due to microwave radiation exposure, and a Swedish study claims people who begin using cordless or mobile phones regularly before the age of 20 are at more than a fourfold increased risk of brain cancer.

But many other studies dismiss the danger. A 2013 Taiwanese report analyzed 10 years of data and did not find a connection between cell phone use and brain tumors in Taiwan. The American Cancer Institute’s position is that, “Studies thus far have not shown a consistent link between cell phone use and cancers of the brain…”

A 2017 Japanese study found no link between brain tumors and mobile phone usage, but researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health “found a statistically significant association between the intracranial distribution of gliomas and the self-reported location of the phone.’

To be on the safe side, the Cancer Institute advises consumers to limit cell phone use to shorter conversations, or to use a hands-free device

Texting has overtaken talking for talking for smartphone-wielding tweens and teens by at least a 5-to-1 margin. In 2010, the average teenager was texting 3,339 times a month, with an annual increase of 8 percent. Teen girls had the most fidgety-fingers, sending 4,050 texts monthly.

Clear and present danger

Now for the downside when it comes to texting. There is far more evidence about the dangers of cell phone use — particularly texting while driving. You’ve likely heard this before but it’s worth repeating and the evidence is clear: distracted driving kills. In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated nearly 6,000 distracted driver fatalities and 515,000 injuries in the United States alone.

Teenagers are particularly at risk because of their still-developing ability to assess risk. Eleven percent of teens age 18 to 20 who survived a traffic accident admitted they were sending or receiving a text while driving, and 40 percent of all U.S. teens admitted they’d been in a car when the driver used a cell phone in a way that put passengers in danger. That’s not all: a quarter of teens respond to a text message at least once every time they drive.

A 2012 Australian study suggested that simple cell phone conversations may not represent a significant risk, but that texting does represent a significant risk, and a 2014 analysis of almost 700 crashes and near-crashes among novice drivers revealed that the risks were significantly higher if the drivers were dialing or reaching for the phone, or sending or receiving a text message.

There’s a device for that

Do these facts fill you with fear? Luckily, there’s technology to keep our kids safe. Devices like Cellcontrol “ensures your teen stays focused on driving — not on their phone. ” The parent-friendly gizmo dismantles mobile phones in your car, according to the company website, because, “Your family doesn’t need to be a statistic.”

If you aren’t worried because your darlings are still too young to drive, wake up! Child pedestrians are also endangered by cell phones. Kids texting while walking often wander absentmindedly into the street. A 2009 study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham that tested 10- to 11-year-olds in a “virtual pedestrian” environment discovered they were more likely to be distracted, and subsequently hit by oncoming vehicles, than adults.


Also in this series:

Your child’s brain on technology: television
How does TV affect your child’s developing brain? Find out in part two of our ongoing series on tech and your child’s brain.

Your child’s brain on technology: video games
Our kids are awash in technology 24/7 — should we worry about the effects on their developing brains?brain.

Your child’s brain on technology: social media
Social media isn’t going anywhere, so as parents we to need consider how it affects kids’ developing minds and determine what role we want it to play in our children’s lives.

Your child’s brain on technology: tablet
How do e-readers and tablets compare to good ole print-on-paper books when it comes to learning? Find out in part 4 of our series on tech and your child’s brain.

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