Is Letting Your Kids Play with Your Cell Phone Like Letting Them Play with Fire?

Is Letting Your Kids Play with Your Cell Phone Like Letting Them Play with Fire?

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Photo of children smiling and playing on smarphones

How many times have you left your house without your cell phone and felt completely lost? If you’re anything like me, you know that when this happens, it feels like you’ve gone out to face your day naked.

Portable technology has become such a normal part of everyday life that it can seem like your cell is simply an extension of you as a person— and by association, part of who your kids are as well. But have you ever stopped to consider that the very thing that’s so close to your heart could be causing you some real and serious harm?

Phones Too Near and Dear to Your Heart?

Letting your kids play with your cell phone could indeed be like letting them play with fire. Ronald L. Melnick, senior advisor to the Environmental Health Trust, led a National Toxicology Program (NTP) study on exposure to wireless radiation. In his words, “The findings of brain tumors (gliomas) and malignant schwann cell tumors of the heart in the NTP study, as well as DNA damage in brain cells, present a major public health concern because these occurred in the same types of cells that have been reported to develop into tumors in epidemiological studies of adult cell phone users.”

In other words, keeping your cell phone too close to your body (or to anybody, for that matter) could cause cancer of the heart and brain.

Photo of happy school kids looking at mobile phone at school

Kids at Play, Kids at Risk

“Even though the cell phone manual contains specific instructions that say do not carry the phone next to the body, the US government does not publicize this information,” says Devra Davis, president of the Environmental Health Trust.

While this is all well and good to know for yourself, it’s even more important to understand what this can do to kids. The risk of cell phone radiation affecting them is higher than it is with adults. Kids’ central nervous systems are still developing, making them more sensitive to tissue-damaging risks like cell phone radiation. And because kids’ skulls are thinner than ours, they’re at higher risk for greater absorption of the bad stuff than we are.

Using Phones the Safe Way

The good news is that there are many ways to safely use your favorite device, protecting both you and your kids at the same time. First and foremost is to heed the warning from the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) Council on Environmental Health, who says that cell phones are “not toys. They have radiation that is emitted from them, and the more we can keep it off the body and use (the phone) in other ways, it will be safer.” This means not using them as toys or teething aids for little ones.

Luckily, the APP has set out some guidelines for how you can protect your loved ones from wireless radiation.

Text vs. Call. Whenever possible, opt for text over calling and use your cell in hands-free or speaker mode. Both precautions will ensure that your phone isn’t too close to your brain.

Keep Your Distance. When talking on your phone, make sure it’s at least an inch, if not more, away from your head. To reduce your exposure, limit your calls in both duration and frequency. Keep your phone away from your body by not carrying it in your bra, sock, or pocket. The makers of cell phones can’t ensure that the volume of radiation you’re getting is a safe amount.

Photo of hand press on Signal bar on digital touch pad

Check Your Bars. When you’re using your phone, check to see how many bars you have. The weaker the signal strength, the harder your phone has to work, which means it’s giving off more radiation. And while we’re on the subject of signals, stay away from cell usage on public transportation or in vehicles, even when you aren’t the driver. Metal acts as a deterrent for a good signal, so again, your phone has to work harder and will emit more radiation.

Download First. If letting the kidlets watch a movie on your phone is the only way to cope on the drive home, then by all means, do it! Just download the movie first and then put your phone into airplane mode. This will help minimize additional radiation exposure.

And while we’re at it, please don’t text or talk on the phone when driving. “Distracted walking” accidents are on the rise too, so be extra careful when using your phone while out walking or doing other activities.

Photo of father and his kids playing with smartphone


Using your cell phone and letting your kids have access to it is a normal part of modern life, so don’t feel as if you need to throw your phone (with its adorable new Kate Spade case and time-saving, kid-distracting apps) into the bin. Instead, just use your common sense and try the suggestions we’ve laid out here. Know that not only will you be getting a new kind of face-time with your kids, you’ll also be helping them stay safe and healthy. As the old adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”