by Tabitha Barbé

Deciding when to get a cellphone for teens and preteens is often a chief concern for parents. While phones have changed how we learn and communicate, studies show they can have adverse effects on childhood health. The following cellphone safety tips can help you keep the lines of communication open with your kids while keeping them safe.  

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Why cellphones might not be safe for teens and tweens

They may negatively impact mental health.

Cellphone exposure may affect behavior in children, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises no more than two hours a day on all electronic devices. A 2017 study indicates that time using new media, such as smartphones, led to a higher rate of depression symptoms, including suicide.

Safe driving decreases when teens have phones.

Teens are at risk for distracted driving. If your teen is driving, remind them to use hands-free devices, wait to respond to texts, or take a moment to safely pull over to check their phone if they need to.

Remember to set a good example. According to Common Sense Media, 59 percent of parents feel their teens have an addiction to their device, and 28 percent of teens share that feeling about their parents’ device usage. The same report showed that 56 percent of parents admit to checking mobile devices while driving, and 51 percent of teens notice.

There’s a possibility of increased cancer risk.

Phones release a type of radiation known as Radio Frequency-Electromagnetic Radiation (RF-EMR), also called RF. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RF radiation as a “possible human carcinogen.”

Research suggests people using phones before the age of 20 are at a higher risk of brain tumors compared to those who started using them as adults because developing brains are vulnerable to electromagnetic frequencies (EMF). However, it could take years before enough conclusive long-term studies exist, according to the National Center for Health Research.

Predators could try to communicate with your child.

Predators may reach out to your child. Although sextortion (a form of child sexual exploitation where children are threatened or blackmailed) and other cybercrimes are on the rise, many go unreported simply because of embarrassment. Let your teens and tweens know that it’s safe to talk to their parents or a trusted adult such as a pediatrician or teacher if they’re in an uncomfortable or unsafe situation online.

Cellphone safety tips

Follow these tips to help keep your digital native safe.

  1. Use airplane mode when possible, to prevent radiation exposure.
  2. Make it a habit to use the speakerphone setting.
  3. Turn off the Wi-Fi router at bedtime.
  4. Set up parental controls as you deem appropriate.
  5. Check the safe distance for your phone’s RF.
  6. Explain what to do if a predator reaches out or someone makes them uncomfortable.
  7. Go over texts, apps, and passcodes.
  8. Remember that some apps, such as certain fake “calculator” apps, may not be what they seem.
  9. Establish strict car phone usage rules, such as placing the phone out of reach when driving.

Remember, even if your teen or preteen already has a phone, it’s not too late to establish new boundaries.