Cell Phones – What does the research tell us?
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Prescriptions for Parents

Making Scientific Research Practical for Families

Cell Phones – What does the research tell us?

As technology affects more of our lives, researchers are beginning to investigate the effects of that technology. One study performed by a global security software maker surveyed 2200 mothers from 10 developed nations, including the US and Canada, who had children between ages 2 and 5 years. The survey found that more of these preschool children could use technology than could tie their shoes, ride a bike or swim. (Mothers over age 35 years were more likely to teach their preschoolers life skills.)

Cell phones can now be used to access the Internet, take and post photos, as well as live-stream. Below we list some recent research along with helpful hints. Please feel free to email any questions.


In one study, 92% of U.S. children under two years of age have an image posted on line.  Most of these images are first posted when the child is about 6 months of age, but one third of newborns have on line images posted within weeks of their births, and 23% have pre-birth ultrasound images available on line.

  • Once an image is posted it is always available – especially as the child grows into adolescence.
  • An image that is posted can be reproduced.
  • An image can be searched and reused in a different context.
  • So, think carefully before you post an image and make sure the site has security settings.

Infant development

Remember that infants bond to parents through their senses – feeling your touch, hearing your voice, seeing your face.  In fact, infants may develop their social skills by observing parents’ eyes.

Make sure you put your cell phone down so your infant has your undivided attention.

Toddlers & Preschoolers

Young children are becoming increasingly adept at the use of technology, including smart phones.  A study in 2010 found 58% of children ages 2 – 5 years knew how to play a computer game and 19% could use a smart phone application.  There was no difference between boys and girls in this survey.

Time spent learning to use a smart phone should be balanced with teaching life skills, so your children learn to communicate with real people, and play and explore the beauty of the real world.

The Association of Teacher and Lecturers in Ireland warned in 2014 that infants were lacking motor skills necessary to play with building blocks due to increased use of smart phones.

Elementary Age

An online survey of 6000 children and parents found 54% of children said their parents checked their smart phones too often, and 32% felt they were unimportant when parents were distracted.

Parents agreed – 52% said they probably checked their smart phones too frequently and 28% felt they did not set a good example for their children and did not want their children to use their smart phones less.

A study from Boston Medical Center evaluated parent-child interactions at fast food restaurants. 55 caregivers were observed, and children were between infancy and ten years of age. 40 of the caregivers used a cell phone during the meal and 16 used it throughout the entire meal.  

Radesky, et al. Mobile and Interactive Media Use by Young Children: The Good, the Bad, and the Unknown Pediatrics 2015; 135:1 1-3


Mental health concerns
There is some research showing teens who use cell phones the most are more likely to experience anxiety and depression.

Text messages and photos can be used by bullies to harass and embarrass their victims.

Lack of sleep
Teens who keep their cell phones on while asleep are likely to experience sleep deprivation as they are woken by incoming text messages or calls.

One study of teens found that 37% felt they “wouldn’t be able to live without a cell phone”.

Two schools in San Francisco had high school students give up their cell phones (and all media) for just three days.  Students described initially feeling anxious – but later feeling “freedom” to be more creative and spend more time outdoors.

Distraction from homework
In the same study noted above, students found they were able to do their homework in a shorter amount of time as they were less distracted.

Helpful use of smart phone apps
Apps can provide young people with an instant support group – beneficial if they are trying to overcome an eating disorder or addiction. In a preliminary study of 12 obese patients between 9 and 22 years of age, a Seattle doctor found that his patients who used an app lost more weight than those who accessed a support group via a computer.

Other apps can provide patients with reminders to take medications, maintain immunizations, exercise and eat healthy.

Medical Risks of Cell Phones

Do cell phones cause cancer? 

This question is being asked because cell phones work by sending and receiving signals using radiofrequency waves, which is a non-ionizing form of radiation.  The ionizing form of radiation (like xrays) does have a relationship with cancer, but it is uncertain as to whether radiofrequency waves can cause cancer.  Radiofrequency waves can increase the temperature of nearby cells, and one study showed that after using a cell phone for 50 minutes, the cells on that side of the brain showed an increase in metabolism by using more glucose.  Many studies have attempted to evaluate the association between cell phone use and the development of cancer (especially those cancers of the head and neck), but the results are inconclusive.

One study, the Interphone Study, conducted by researchers in 13 countries studied 400,000 people over a 13 year period of time. This study found no relationship between cell phone use and tumors of the head and neck, with the possible exception of those individuals who reported the highest level of use.

Several studies in Sweden and the United Kingdom seemed to find a slight increase in the development of acoustic neuromas but the overall incidence of acoustic neuromas did not increase in the countries despite increasing cell phone usage.  So the data is difficult to interpret.

A study in the US surveying cancers between 1987 and 2007 found no increase in brain cancer despite the rapid increase in cell phone use.

There are ongoing studies that are continuing to evaluate the data, and additional information can be found at the two links below: What are some easy ways to decrease exposure to radiofrequency waves?
  • Use the speaker phone when making telephone calls.
  • Use your hands-free device whenever possible.
  • Turn your cell phone to airplane mode so your phone is not constantly searching for a signal.
  • Turn your cell phone off whenever possible and enjoy your family, your surroundings, and your community!
Copyright © 2015 National Physician's Center, All rights reserved.

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