Cell Phone Radiation – 5 Ways to Minimize It Now

A May 2011 World Health Organization International Agency for Research on Cancer report suggested a correlation between radiation-emitting radio frequency waves of cell phones and malignant brain tumors. But just two months later, researchers in Switzerland found no such link — they also reported in the same well-known journal that, contrary to prior reports, children who use cell phones are at no significantly greater risk for brain cancer than those who don’t. Say what?

It may take years for researchers to come to a definitive conclusion on cell phone radiation. But here’s what we do know: According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of teens own cell phones, up from 45 percent in 2004. Cell phones emit radiation. The human brain doesn’t fully develop until we’re in our 20s. And children’s skulls and scalps are thinner than adults’.

In light of these facts, here are the best ways for you and your kids to talk and text on the side of caution:

1. Find out how just much radiation your family’s cell phones emit.

Go to the Environmental Working Group’s online guide to find cell phone radiation levels for each model in your household.

2. Type, don’t talk.

Our cell phones emit radiation whenever we talk, leave voicemails — and yes, even text. Still, some researchers say that giving potential carcinogens ready access to our domes might be more harmful than when we just text (and hold the phone away from our bodies). So if your kid is sending hundreds of texts a day, don’t get angry. She might be doing the right thing — health-wise at least.

3. Don’t chat through weak signals.

Battling a weak signal? Don’t. Studies have shown that our cell phones emit more radiation when they’re struggling to transmit a signal to a tower. Instead of straining to put together sentences out of fragments and half words, put the convo to rest and try again when your reception works.

4. Invest in a radiation-slaying gadget.

There are several gizmos designed to stick onto a cell phone to reduce radiation. The jury’s still out on whether all of them are effective, but what has yielded credibility in the scientific community are headsets, since they create some distance between the cell phone and the user’s head. Some headset-makers have even concocted radiation-reducing sets, which carry sound through a tube, not through wiring.

5. Delay buying your kid a cell phone.

No matter how thick-headed your kids act, their brain and skull is thinner than yours. Some researchers think this allows for radiation to penetrate deeper into a child’s brain. Is that for certain? Only time and more research will tell. For now, think about all the facts about radiation before green-lighting that cell phone for your 5-year-old.


Editor’s Note: The Environmental Working Group (EWG) mentioned in this post has also reported on its website about recent changes to the FCC’s online consumer advice about cell phone safety, that soften the advisory. These changes make US guidelines weaker than guidelines in other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland. Clearly there is ongoing debate and controversy about health risks posed by cell phones, but it seems the issue bears continued assessment and monitoring. We hope these resources help families better make their own decisions for the health and safety of their children.

*The EWG is a non-profit organization established in 1993 that conducts research, circulates information and lobbies government to protect public health and the environment.

Helping Your Child in Emotional Pain – It’s Not So Easy

A number of the “11 Action Signs” published recently by the Mayo Clinic to help parents, caregivers and health care professionals better recognize when a child may be suffering from a behavioral or emotional disorder (see the November 3rd post by Stefanie Zucker) were very familiar to me.

We witnessed some of these in our son when he was 6-7 years old: crying on the way to school and faking illness to stay home (he put a thermometer up to a light bulb to fake a fever!); often being very difficult and argumentative – then collapsing into meltdowns; sitting in a corner behind the sofa hugging his knees and rocking; saying things such as, “I’m not like other kids.”

It was so difficult to witness our son going through this kind of emotional pain. Eventually we determined that he was VERY unhappy at his school – due to some bullying, and overall dysfunction in his class and the school generally. However, it wasn’t so easy to figure out that there was something really negative going on at school – and that his emotional state was being seriously compromised as a result. He didn’t share what went on during his day, even when I asked – a typical boy! And the changes in his behavior came on slowly, in fits and starts. It was also hard to compare current to past behavior because kids keep growing and changing – not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. What constitutes “normal” at any given point? This is especially challenging because, as the Mayo Clinic report points out, most kids exhibit these behaviors at some point.

But the challenges do not stop at identification. What do you do when you begin to recognize the signs that your child is in emotional pain? Do you try talking to him – or involve a trusted family friend with whom he might be more open? Do you talk to his teacher? What if the teacher isn’t trained on these dimensions and insinuates that your child has a character flaw or that his behavior must be due to issues at home? Does it occur to you to contact his pediatrician or a child psychologist (do you even have one on hand)? Or do you – or your spouse – worry about stigma or that it might be overkill to involve a medical professional?

I experienced all of these situations. When I confided in another mother from school that our son was very unhappy and wanted to change schools, she asked if we would really let him push such a decision – and that from a primary care doctor with 2 kids! All these experiences and uncertainties can undermine your confidence in the right path of action.

In the end we had TWO medical professionals recommend his immediate removal from his current school. Fast forward 2 years – and an entirely different (and wonderful!) school – and life is altogether different. Or back to an earlier state we had forgotten about. After just two months in the new school, he was so much happier and better behaved – and back to singing and dancing around the house as he did things. We even remembered that we used to call him “Tigger” – because of the way he bounced around everywhere, full of infectious energy and enthusiasm.

Throughout this process I tried hard to show my son how special and loved he was. I had many long talks with him to try to help him cope with whatever was going on. When he said he was different and kids didn’t like him – one day solemnly proclaiming: “I’m the least popular kid in my class and the third least-popular kid in the school” – I told him to remember that everyone was different and worthy – and that “no kid fits everywhere, but EVERYONE fits somewhere.” And at Christmas two years ago – when everything was coming to a head – “Santa” wrote him an encouraging letter and gave him a plaque – that hangs proudly right over his bed:

On Thanksgiving, we at Pediatric Safety are VERY thankful…

As I consider what I am thankful for this holiday season I realize that some things do not change: I am always thankful for my son. Even if there are frequent hassles and meltdowns, he has been one of the greatest joys of my life. Despite the chewed fence and dug-up lawn, I am also thankful for our dogs, whose unwavering doggy love can make the worst day feel better.

As I danced to Bollywood Bhangra music this past Saturday at a friend’s 40th celebration, I was thankful for the many opportunities I’ve had to live and work abroad; to be exposed to all the color and diversity of this crazy world. I am very thankful for my friends, both near and far, with whom I never tire of sharing, and whose support sustains me through work, life and parenting challenges. But I am also thankful for the societies I have had the good fortune to live and raise my son in. With all the issues we face, we often forget the many rights and benefits we enjoy in the rich-world countries.

As I look back at this year of transition, I am thankful for the courage to take a break from work and explore new paths when I needed to – and for the resources and support of my husband to do so, at least for a while!

Finally, I am thankful for the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with the PedSafe audience. Thank you for reading and for your many valuable comments. We appreciate your support.

…Audra Baumgartner

As Thanksgiving approaches, I can’t help but think about this past year and all the changes in my life that I am grateful for. Not that this was an easy year…it wasn’t for me and I know it wasn’t for many of you who’ve also been affected by the downturn in our economy. Still – as I move forward towards 2012 I am hopeful and I find that I truly am grateful:

To have found a wonderful man that I love– someone who “gets me”… who puts my needs ahead of his own…who can cook with me in the kitchen…and will clean up when I am dead tired. For him I am truly grateful…

To have found a close friendship that I thought had been lost forever. Someone who treated the last 5 years of silence as if it had only been 5 days… who joined me at Pediatric Safety to help make this community something really special…and who picked me up and offered me unconditional support when I was at my lowest. For her I am truly grateful…

To have a healthy family – of course there are the usual colds, sinus infections, stomach aches, headaches (aches in general) – but that’s life. No one has anything incurable or life-altering. For that I am also grateful…

Finally, to have found all of you who believe in and support our goals here at Pediatric Safety…who read us day in and day out and believe that where ANY child is concerned, “one ouch is too many.” For you I am eternally grateful!

…Stefanie Zucker

From all of us here at Pediatric Safety,
have a safe, happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

Help! My Six-year-old Son is Lying to Avoid School

You must address lying behavior assertively because this is a habit that can become serious. Tell your son the story about the boy who cried wolf and explain how lying undermines trust in relationships.

Encourage him to share the reason why he is trying to avoid school and his feelings in general. Work with his teacher on the underlying reasons and help him develop more effective social and emotional skills for handling stressful situations.

If he has developed chronic physical complaints such as headaches or stomachaches, consult your pediatrician as well. Never let him stay home unless he has observable medical symptoms. If he does, require him to rest and skip all activities, making sure that it is not a rewarding experience to stay home. Six-year-old boys should prefer to be with their friends at school!

Three Strategies for Protecting Kids from Sexual Predators

The Penn State Football child abuse scandal in the US is a classic case of someone misusing his position of trust and power to abuse and coerce kids and of adults in responsible positions not taking action to stop him. Parents are left wondering, ““What do I need to look out for? How can I protect my kids? What can I teach them about protecting themselves?”

In Kidpower’s experience working with over 2 million people of all ages and abilities since 1989, here are three strategies that might been able to prevent the terrible wrong done to these children and helped to bring this man’s abusive behavior to light much sooner

1. Make sure you know who is in charge of your kids.
Remember that anyone can be an abuser. As parents and other caring adults, we need to face the reality is that there are sexual predators who will create opportunities to be alone with kids by doing wonderful things with and for them. And, most of these offenders will seem like really nice people with excellent reputations. When people ask me to tell them what a child molester might look like, I say, “Look in the mirror – a molester looks just like anyone else!”

Most adults who choose to do great things with kids are good people who truly want to help. A coach, a youth group leader, a Big Brother/Big Sister, a religious leader, and a child therapist can all have relationships with children and teens in the context of their paid or volunteer role, and these relationships can be tremendously important to a young person. However, the vulnerability of young people to anyone put into these positions of trust is why more attention needs to be paid to screening these individuals and to following up thoroughly on any hint of a problem.

Don’t just trust someone because they are part of a reputable institution, church, or school. Check the person out for yourself, especially if he or she is going to be alone with your child. Check references. Don’t assume that someone will tell you if something bad happens. Trust your intuition if something feels uncomfortable to you. Watch out for someone who seems to single out certain kids for special attention and private relationships, who seeks social and recreational opportunities to be alone with kids without other adults there, or who is not open to parents and other responsible adults being fully informed about and comfortable with what is going on. When in doubt, check it out!

2. Teach kids not to keep secrets about problems, touch, presents, or favors.
Most abusers cultivate strong relationships with children before doing anything sexual. Often, they test a child’s boundaries by being inappropriate in other ways. In the chilling book, Conversations with a Pedophile, the abuser, who was interviewed by the author while in prison, describes how he would use a swear word to a boy in a church youth group and then say something like, “Oops! I just said a bad word. Please don’t tell your parents, because then we couldn’t have fun together any more.” He would then target boys who he was confident wouldn’t tell.

This pedophile’s strong advice to parents about protecting their kids from people like him was,“Listen to your kids!” Get kids into the habit of talking to you by asking supportive questions, being a good listener, and not lecturing. Pay attention to what they say. Let kids know that you care about what they are doing and want to know what is happening with them no matter how busy you are. Be very clear that problems, touch, presents, favors, privileges, and games should not be a secret. Teach young people how to set boundaries with people they know and care about.

What safe looks like...

3. Put Safety First!
Kidpower’s core principle is: The safety and self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense. Any of the many adults who witnessed or learned of Sandusky’s behavior might have prevented years of abuse and other victims if they had reported what happened to the police. The damage to Penn State’s reputation would have been far less than the damage that is being caused now.

If you suspect that there is a safety problem, especially involving children, take personal responsibility for doing something to address it. This means speaking up persistently and widely until effective action is taken to fix that problem. Don’t just tell someone, even if that person is in a position of authority, and assume that your responsibility is at an end. Follow up to see what is happening. Realize that children and young people who are being abused need help and protection – and that anyone who is abusing them needs to be stopped.

The Kidpower article Worthy of Trust: What Organizations Need to Do to Protect Children From Harm describes what people need to do to take charge of the safety of young people in their care.

To learn more about how to protect kids from sexual abuse, see our Child Abuse Prevention Resource Page.

The Real Danger of Food Allergies

If your child has food allergies, you know how serious and life-altering they can be. Now, a groundbreaking study by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine shows just how common they are.

Nearly 6 million American kids that are 18 years of age or younger (roughly 1 in 13) are allergic to at least one food, according to the 2011 study – twice as many as previously thought. Of those, 39 percent had severe allergic reactions, and 30 percent had multiple food allergies. The most common allergies were to peanuts (25 percent), milk (21 percent), shellfish (17 percent) and tree nuts (13 percent).

Not all negative reactions to food are allergic reactions, however. Sometimes kids just have an intolerance of certain foods. Here’s how to know if your child has food allergies – and what you should do about it.

Food Allergy vs. Food Intolerance

With an allergy, the immune system responds to a particular food as if it were an enemy, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). After the first exposure, the body produces antibodies to fight the food. After the second exposure, the antibodies trigger the release of certain chemicals (called histamines) that cause symptoms to occur.

With food intolerance, however, the immune system isn’t involved, so the condition is not life-threatening. Intolerance is a reaction of the digestive system; potential causes can be sensitivity to food additives, recurring stress, etc. The most common nonallergic reactions are to lactose, gluten and food additives. Food intolerances are not as worrisome, and the doctor may recommend things to do to aid digestion.

Common Allergy Signs and Symptoms

An allergic reaction occurs from within a few minutes to an hour after a child is exposed, according to Children’s Hospital Boston, and can range from mild to life-threatening. (Exposure to even the smallest amount can produce a reaction.)

Common symptoms include:

  • Vomiting, diarrhea, cramps
  • Hives
  • Swelling
  • Eczema
  • Itching or swelling of the lips, tongue or mouth
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing
  • Lowered blood pressure

If your baby or young child has milk or soy allergies, symptoms include:

  • Colic
  • Blood in the stool
  • Poor growth

If you think your child has had an allergic reaction, consult with your child’s doctor to come up with a treatment plan. If the symptoms are severe, seek immediate medical attention.

Will Food Allergies Be Outgrown?

Food allergies usually begin in early childhood, but they can develop later, according to NIAID. Your child will likely outgrow allergies to eggs, milk or soy – but not peanuts. Allergies to tree nuts, fish and shellfish may also be lifelong allergies, according to Children’s Hospital Boston.

Treatment for Food Allergies

If you’re worried that your child has food allergies, talk to your doctor. There’s no medication to prevent food allergies; all you can do is try to avoid exposure, according to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. After your child’s doctor confirms the allergy, be sure your child stays away from that particular food and other foods in the same group. If your child’s reaction is severe, the doctor may prescribe an emergency kit with epinephrine to counteract the symptoms in case of exposure.

After three to six months, your child’s doctor may reintroduce some foods back into the diet to see if your child can tolerate them.