Creative Child

Missed Connections?

An ongoing study aims to shed light on cell phone use and childhood brain development.
by Erin J. Bernard on Sep 16th, 2014

A friend's toddler recently got hold of her cell phone and managed to snap a selfie, place a call to Russia, and then disable her device completely ; in just two unsupervised minutes.

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Our children's fascination with grown-up technologies can be frustrating, but it's hardly surprising: by now, the newborn cell phone snapshot is a cultural ritual, and babies begin making grabs for mom or dad's iPhones as soon as they've mastered the pincer grasp. By elementary school, many kids even have their very own mobile devices.

Much has been made of the social consequences of children growing up with phones attached to their ears, but should parents worry about physical risks, too?

The science is out on how prolonged exposure to the radio waves emitted by our phones might affect the human brain. So far, researchers have found no clear link between heavy cell phone use and ill health, but the vast majority of existing studies have focused on adult brains.

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Now, changing norms are forcing to the fore new questions about how these same behaviors might affects kids, whose brains and nervous systems aren't fully formed.

Are the risks different for developing brains? Are they serious? And what happens when a human is exposed to radio waves over the course of an entire lifetime?

A large-scale examination of how cell phone use affects children's brains recently launched at Imperial College London, and researchers hope the results will provide some long-overdue insights.

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Called the Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (SCAMP), it's the largest study ever of its kind to focus specifically on memory and attention in children.

For three-years, SCAMP will track the brain development of 2,500 11-to-12-year-old British children, 70 percent of whom now own mobile phones.

Numbers are even higher across the pond: according a 2013 Pew Research Center study on American Teens and Technology, 78 percent of 12-to-17-year-olds have cell phones. And the National Consumers League reported in a 2012 study that six out of 10 American kids ages 8-12 also have them.

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