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A Stanford Neurologist On How Wireless Tech Affects Your Kid’s Brain

Last summer, a review published in everyone’s favorite Sunday paper, The Journal Of Microscopy And Ultrastructure, raised concerns about the effects of certain kinds of wireless technologies on kids. If you’re reading this with your phone in one hand, your kid in the other and an iPad on your lap — all of which are talking to a WiFi router and maybe a Bluetooth speaker — you’re probably wondering if you need to be worried.

We contacted Dr. Paul Fisher, a professor of Neurology at Stanford and the AAP’s former chair of Neurology, to get a doctor’s perspective. The only thing he couldn’t address was why your kid is talking to the WiFi router.

A Note On Definitions
While cellular, WiFi and Bluetooth are all separate technologies, the question of their safety as it relates to human use at any age refers to electromagnetic radiation. Research into the health effects of electromagnetic radiation focuses on anything operating between 0 and 300 GHz, which includes all 3 of the gadgets that are currently in close proximity to your kid.

“The issue of electromagnetic fields has been around now for almost 30 years,” Dr. Fisher explains. “And over the years there have been many more studies not finding any association than those that do.”

Apparently, the few studies that have shown a correlation focus on “the highest of the high-high users,” like salespeople who work from their car and are talking on their phone for 8 hours a day. That should come as a relief to parents, since kids only communicate by texting these days, anyway.

When You Might Want To Worry
While the scientific consensus is that cell, WiFi and Bluetooth don’t cause harm to human cells or tissues, Dr. Fisher acknowledges that there is far less research on the human cells or tissues that are under 5 years old. “If you told me there was a pacifier with Bluetooth I’d think, wow, that’s neat, but I probably wouldn’t go out and buy one,” he says.

Well, there is a pacifier with Bluetooth. But, to the doc’s point, there’s no data showing what happens when a baby sucks on an electromagnetic field for 6 months. “Don’t go crazy,” he says. “Caution is always a good thing.”

Just as no one’s studied Bluetooth-sucking babies, no one’s studied the effect of talking to an iPad starting at the age of 0 — so, does that mean no FaceTiming with Grandma?

According to the study in The Journal Of Microscopy And Ultrastructure, keeping cell phones just 6 inches from your head “provides a 10,000-fold reduction in risk” — that’s a distance you can easily maintain for an infant or regulate once a toddler starts holding the iPad themselves.

Dr. Fisher points out that there are true, quantifiable benefits to communicating with loved ones via phones, tablets and computers. “If you want to allay your fears of the unknown by crawling into a hole and burying yourself, that’s not the right response,” he says. “Be open-minded, use common sense, and practice moderation.”

In other words, don’t throw the baby out with the Bluetooth.