Smartphones and Children

Warning: This is a serious article that pulls no punches and is solely the opinion of the author; it contains descriptions some readers may
find concerning. While it is intended to be informative, reader discretion is advised.

Anyone who has children will know that it can sometimes be difficult to entertain them; we read to them, we cook them meals, we play games with them, we take them out, we let them watch TV, and we do a multitude of other things to keep them happy and to make their lives fun. But, we’ve all heard the statement…”I’m bored”…said to us in a tone with more than a hint of expectation and demand. Or there are those times when we really need to get something done and thus we need our children to be quiet and entertained. In years gone by there was
concern that children were watching too much television but this pales into insignificance to smartphones and tablets, and we’ve all done it – allowed them half an hour that’s turned into an hour and a half or handed them the device as a benign method of tranquilisation so we can get something done.

As a parent and a healthcare professional I am becoming increasingly concerned about the effect smartphones are having on children of all ages. My own son went through a long phase of getting mouth ulcers, tiredness and periods of self-doubt at the age of seven so I researched his lifestyle to see if I could find a cause. My research focused on his diet, the school workload, and his use of a smartphone – it was the
use of the smartphone that gave me the most cause for concern.
In terms of children using smartphones it’s hard to find anything good yet so easy to find things that are potentially harmful to their physical and mental health and wellbeing. So let’s start with the usefulness of what children actually do on smartphones – essentially it’s games, social media, and watching videos, oh and watching grown adults whose only ambition is to narrate while playing computer games and make
videos of his ‘work’ for Youtube! 

Games – we live in an age where the processing power even in smartphones allows for highly realistic games. Of course there are harmless games like Angry Birds but they are not all as benign as this. One example is a game called Hello Neighbour, if it wasn’t referred to as a game it could be referred to as a dark psychological virtual reality with the implication that the players neighbour has some dark gruesome secret in his basement – the aim of the game is to break into the house to find out but with each attempt the neighbour character learns more about the players tactics and tries to prevent it. Other games aren’t psychological at all but still expose and desensitise our children to very graphic and realistic violence.

Social Media – everyone knows what social media is and to be fair in most cases it can be a nice way to keep in touch with friends and family. Sadly though this is often not the case and playground bullying can just extend into the internet. Unlike the playground there are no authority figures to moderate arguments, break up fights, or discipline the perpetrators – the bullying and humiliation can be witnessed by far more peers and the memories of what is says don’t fade with time, what is said is remembered by the internet forever.

Watching Videos – don’t be fooled by online safety filters; if children want to watch something they will find a way to watch it – and the internet is packed with all sorts of things children shouldn’t see – fourteen percent of all web searches are for pornography; and that’s just pornography, nevermind the thousands of websites devoted to violence or hate. And, unlike computer games much of the violence is real – it’s not just possible, it’s easy to find videos and images of real violence, mutilations, and even executions, simply by pressing a few buttons on a smartphone.

So far we have uncovered the things children can see and do online, and even if it were just this anecdotal evidence it would not acceptable to most parents – so let’s ask ourselves if we would want to expose our children to graphic images in games; or if we would want them to face even the risk of unmonitored and unlimited bullying and abuse through social media; or if we would want them to see and be desensitised to pornography and/or real and graphic images of violence against humans and animals. Of course we wouldn’t but every time we hand them the smartphone or tablet that is exactly the risk we are taking.

Sadly the harm or potential harm  doesn’t end there – there are now many studies that detail the psychological harm this exposure is doing – there is a huge rise in children with mental health issues; anxiety, stress, addiction and depression at least in part as result of their internet use.

Finally, although there is no definitive evidence that Wi-Fi signals are harmful to health caution is recommended by manufactures and limits to exposure have been set.

For example Apple recommends the iPhone6 is kept at least 5mm away from the body and a study cited in the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure suggests:
> Children absorb more microwave radiation (MWR) than adults due to softer tissues
> MWR is a Class 2B possible carcinogen (meaning it might be poisonous)
> The foetus in pregnant women is in greater danger from exposure than even children
> The legal exposure limits have remained unchanged for decades

Here is a quote from the reports Abstract

“Because the average latency time between first exposure and diagnosis of a tumor can be decades, tumors induced in children may not be diagnosed until well into adulthood. The foetus is particularly vulnerable to MWR. MWR exposure can result in degeneration of the protective myelin sheath that surrounds brain neurons. MWR-emitting toys are being sold for use by young infants and toddlers. Digital dementia has been reported in school age children. A case study has shown when cell phones are placed in teenage girls’ bras multiple primary breast cancer develop beneath where the phones are placed.”

So why write this article? Well first I should say I’m not trying to scare parents but it is important to impart what I see as useful information so parents can make an informed choice. Of course it’s possible that the quoted study is wrong since many other studies say there can be no physical harm. The point is we just don’t know, but there is a clearly a risk, and when that risk is combined with the risk of addiction, the risk
of mental health problems, the risk of abuse and bullying, and the risk of our children witnessing violence and other graphic images perhaps we need to think about what our children are actually gaining from their smartphone and tablet use.
There is a phrase in medicine – ‘risk versus benefit’ – it means that essentially where something carries a risk, is the benefit to the individual worth that risk? When we apply this concept to children using smartphones and tablets we see the so called benefits are pretty much watching videos, playing games, and hearing what their friend had for tea on social media – for the risks, see above. Is it worth it?

Damien Cominos MHSC,
Director and HCPC Paramedic

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