Do you let your child use an iPad instead of a cell phone with the understanding that tablets are a better choice? Are you confused about the conflicting information regarding wireless technology? Wondering if there is a better way to integrate tablets into your household?
Parents understandably love the interactive nature of tablets as well as the calming effect of these devices especially when mom needs to get something done or while waiting in a crowded office. In fact, parents from all economic backgrounds are now utilizing tablets and other devices in the home.
According to the *American Academy of Pediatrics, a survey of 350 children in an urban, low-income pediatric clinic showed the following (emphasis mine):
“Most households had television (97%), tablets (83%), and smartphones (77%). At age 4, half the children had their own television and three-fourths their own mobile device. Almost all children (96.6%) used mobile devices, and most started using before age 1.
Parents gave children devices when doing house chores (70%), to keep them calm (65%), and at bedtime (29%). At age 2, most children used a device daily and spent comparable screen time on television and mobile devices. Most 3- and 4-year-olds used devices without help, and one-third engaged in media multitasking.”
*See Exposure and Use of Mobile Media Devices by Young Children
Clearly, you’re not alone if tablets, cell phones, and other devices are part of your household!
How do tablets work?
The iPad contains both radio receivers and radio transmitters relying on pulsed microwaves similar to cell phones and DECT cordless phones. According to Gizmodo, the iPad3 houses five antennas:
“Two antennas handle the cell reception — one is in the RF window on top, the other attaches to the LCD frame. A single GPS antenna is also housed in the RF window on top. Just like the iPad Wi-Fi, there are two antennas that handle Wi-Fi / Bluetooth connectivity, one in the Apple logo and another to the left of the dock connector.”
As we’ll see later, turning off Wi-Fi and Blue Tooth while the iPad is in Airplane mode can significantly reduce exposure to radio frequencies.
Are tablets safe for your child?
Every parent wants the best for their child. The problem with wireless technology is the presumption of innocence while the jury is still out regarding the safety of this type of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). Only ionizing radiation has been deemed dangerous. However, the BioIniative Report 2012 offers more than 1800 studies demonstrating the biological effects of non-ionizing EMR.
Let’s begin with a look at what Apple says about the safety of iPads.
Apple offers the following warning at the beginning of its user manual. (Find the manual here.)
”Read all safety information below and operating instructions before using iPad to avoid injury.
To reduce risk of headaches, blackouts, seizures, and eyestrain, avoid prolonged use, hold iPad some distance from your eyes, use iPad in a well-lit room, and take frequent breaks.”
In the section titled Exposure to Radio Frequency Energy, Apple notes that “the iPad contains radio transmitters and receivers. When on, iPad sends and receives radio frequency (RF) energy through its antenna.” Here’s the critical information for parents (emphasis mine):
A cellular antenna is located at the top edge of the iPad Wi-Fi + 3G, when oriented with the Home button at the bottom. For optimal mobile device performance and to be sure that human exposure to RF energy does not exceed the FCC, IC, and European Union guidelines, always follow these instructions and precautions: Orient the device in portrait mode with the Home button at the bottom of the display, or in landscape mode with the cellular antenna (located under the black edge at the top of the device) away from your body or other objects.
While tablets are further from a child’s head, they are still in proximity to developing organs and tissue.
Caution from the World Health Organization
The World Health Organization stunned the world in 2011 when it classified radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields as a Type 2B Possible Carcinogen acknowledging that children are more vulnerable:
“In children using mobile phones, the average deposition of RF energy may be two times higher in the brain and up to ten times higher in the bone marrow of the skull than in adult users. The use of hands-free kits lowers exposure of the brain to less than 10% of the exposure from use at the ear, but it may increase exposure to other parts of the body.”
More Caution about RF Exposure
An Expert Forum on Cell Phone and Wireless Risks to Children held at the Commonwealth Club of California in June of 2015 featured compelling scientific evidence showing the hazards of this type of radiation.
Dr. Mary Redmayne of Melbourne Australia offered this graphic showing the precautionary stance of numerous countries including Taiwan – which adopted a complete ban on devices for children under 2 years of age in January of 2015.
(I attended the Expert Forum on Cell Phone and Wireless Risks to Children and encourage every parent to watch the videos associated with this forum. Find them at ElectromagneticHealth.org.)
What about a child’s brain development?
In addition to the RF exposure, questions must be raised about the impact on a child’s cognitive development. Pediatrician Dimitri A. Christakis encourages parents to limit the use of tablets, despite the fact that tablets offer interactive qualities that are missing when a child passively watches TV. In the article Interactive Media Use at Younger Than the Age of 2: Time to Rethink the American Academy of Pediatrics Guideline? Christakis expresses two concerns:
1. Caregivers should always ask themselves what their child would otherwise be doing were it not for the omni-available touch screen. For example, I cringe when I see families at restaurants together, and each member has their eyes glued to their personal device, thereby bypassing an increasingly rare opportunity for familial engagement.
2. The second is derived oddly enough from the interactive nature of the device itself. The “I did it!” response, whether stated or felt, manifests itself on a neuronal level with the secretion of dopamine as part of the reward pathway. Think B. F. Skinner’s famous rat experiments. The delight a child gets from touching a screen and making something happen is both edifying and potentially addictive. In much the same way as we have seen the emergence of problematic Internet use in older children and adolescents, we may now begin to see compulsive use of iPads among our youngest patients. Therefore, limits on use are in order.
Christakis thoughts are echoed by Dr. Byun Gi-won, a medical doctor who runs the Balance Brain Center in Seoul, South Korea, a facility dedicated to helping cognitive problems stemming from computer and smart phone use. According to Dr. Gi-won,
“Heavy users are likely to develop the left side of their brains, leaving the right side untapped or under developed.” (See the interview with the Korea JoonGang Daily here.)
Left-brain skills include rational, linear, fact-finding thinking processes whereas right brain skills include impulse control, intuition, imagination, emotional thoughts, and empathy.
Suggestions for Minimizing Your Child’s Exposure
Thankfully, parents who want to keep devices in the home have options when it comes to reducing RF exposure.
The authors of the article Protect Children From EMF appearing October 2015 in Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine provide the following advisory guidelines:
Explain to your child how to use the electronic item
Make sure that the child understands the necessity to keep the device away from the brain and genitals
Be sure that during the night electronics are away from the child (better outside the room)
Specifically, be careful that the electronic device is not under pillow of the child
The authors also encourage parents to read the fine print of the manuals that come with these devices.
Two more suggestions for minimizing your child’s exposure
1. Bypass the wireless function entirely and wire the device.
Parents must exercise some ingenuity to accomplish this, but the iPad can be connected directly to the Ethernet. For a tutorial see How to Connect Your Device to the Ethernet. The following video demonstrates this hookup.
2. Keep the tablet in airplane mode, checking to be sure the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are turned off.
Check the antennas. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can still be transmitting in airplane mode. Be sure they are each in the off position. In the following video, you can see the change in frequency level using the Cornet Electrosmog Meter. (You can purchase the Cornet Electrosmog Meter here.)
The proliferation of wireless technology is unprecedented in human history. We can’t know the long-term health implications. Thankfully, parents can become informed and make decisions accordingly in order to protect our children and future generations.
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linda spiker says
Great advice. Better safe than sorry.
Emily @ Recipes to Nourish says
Thank you for sharing so much wonderful information with us Andrea! I really appreciate the time you take to show us the facts and important information that is so often overlooked. Pinned it.
Renee Kohley says
We don’t have an IPad but I think it would be hard to keep away from my kids if we had one! We do have the phones though and this information is really eye opening 🙁
I don’t plan on giving my future babies any type of electronic. I had such a wholesome childhood playing with toys and playing outside. It’s so sad to see how kids these days are just staring at phones or how parents hand their kids a tablet to keep them quiet. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for sharing this very important information. I don’t have kids, so I don’t know how much my opinion counts, but I don’t believe that young children need electronics. Toys and books are just fine – in fact better!
Megan Stevens says
I really appreciate the bullets you conclude with, the added tips as well. This is pinned. Thank you!
Andrea Fabry says
Thanks for the feedback, Megan. I need to stick with bullet points at the end I think.
Sarah Pooe says
When I listened to your last podcast, you mentioned wearing orange glasses in order to not be affected by blue light of iPad. Nth is does indeed affect my sleep, cannot relax to sleep for a long tome when using it in the evening.
Can you send me a link to purchase the orange glasses.
Andrea Fabry says
Hey Sarah! Nice to hear from you. These are the ones I have.
There is also an app you can download that filters the blue light out of your display after the sun goes down: f.lux at http://www.justgetflux.com. Of course, glasses would filter all the light in your home when you have them on. You can get them on amazon.
Andrea Fabry says
Yes, the app is better than nothing, but the glasses do a better job from what I understand. Thanks for the link, Jessie.