If you’re traveling this holiday season, chances are your kid will have a device in their lap for at least part of the trip.
Don’t feel bad. We get it. Traveling with kids requires backup.
Radiofrequency energy is a form of radiation given off by cell and portable phones, Wi-Fi routers, baby monitors and countless other devices. Scientific studies have linked electromagnetic radiation from long-term cellphone use to an increased risk of brain and heart cancer.
Any device using a Wi-Fi or cell signal emits some amount of radiation in the form of radiofrequency energy, including smart phones, tablets, Kindles, laptops and smart watches. The amount of radiation depends on the device and the strength of the signal. And because children’s small heads and thinner skulls can absorb more radiation, regular cell phone use puts them at increased risk of potentially harmful exposure.
In 2016, research from the National Toxicology Program found that lab animals exposed to radiofrequency radiation at levels similar to those emitted by cellphones had a greater likelihood of developing brain cancer and heart tumors. In 2019, the NTP reported that, in laboratory animals, exposure to radiofrequency radiation caused DNA damage. These studies offer valuable insight into the potential risk to people, including future exposure to 5G wireless networks.
Until we know more about how radiofrequency radiation affects children’s health, you can take these steps to reduce the amount of radiation your children’s devices give off and how much they’re directly exposed to.
1. Get the device out of your child’s lap
Put space between the device and your kid’s body. Even a few inches make a big difference.
Instead, put the device on a portable lap desk or airplane tray table to keep it from resting on your child’s body. (Portable lap desks are easy to find, even in foldable travel versions. As a bonus, they’re great for eating and drawing in the car, too.)
Also, teach your kids to carry their phone in a backpack or purse – somewhere other than next to their body in a pocket. This is especially important when kids are on a call – phones emit higher radiation when they’re transmitting a call or data.
2. Keep devices in airplane mode
It’s best to keep the phone in airplane whenever possible, but especially when the signal is weak or when you’re moving – like in a car or train. The harder a device has to work to find a tower, the more radiation it releases. So as you’re speeding along, cell phones and cell-enabled tablets are working extra hard to connect to towers along the way, and your kids are getting a bigger dose of radiation. Devices in airplane mode don’t send or search for a signal and don’t emit radiofrequency radiation.
Instead of streaming, download apps and videos before leaving home and then switch to airplane mode for the trip. Many apps can be played without Wi-Fi or a cell signal, and as of this writing, Netflix, Hulu, YouTube Premium and Amazon’s Prime Video all allow subscribers to download TV episodes and movies to mobile devices.
3. When making calls, use speaker mode or headphones with cords
Cell phones emit their highest radiation levels during calls, and it goes up when the signal is weak or moving. Instead of holding the phone against their ear, kids should use headphones with cords, speaker mode or video calls, and put the phone somewhere away from their bodies while they talk, like on a table or arm rest, or in a cup holder.
4. Don’t let kids sleep with their devices …
Kids shouldn’t sleep next to their devices, and certainly should not place them under their pillow. Even when they’re not being used, cell phones emit a small amount of radiation, which can add up to big trouble for children.
5. … or next to the router
Scientists don’t fully understand the effects of Wi-Fi on human health, because most studies, including the research that gave rise to the classification of cell phone radiation as a possible carcinogen, have been done on conventional cell phone radiation. But the closer the source of radiation, the more kids absorb. So some experts recommend placing the router in an area of the house where people spend fairly little time, rather than near beds.