There are greater dangers to children than mobile phones

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The Independent Online

Let children live a little. It is not mobile phones that parents should worry about, but the danger that their children will grow up fat and overprotected, ferried everywhere by car from one germ-free, centrally heated environment to another.

Let children live a little. It is not mobile phones that parents should worry about, but the danger that their children will grow up fat and overprotected, ferried everywhere by car from one germ-free, centrally heated environment to another.

Rather than banning a potentially liberating technology with no proven ill effects, let us focus on things which undoubtedly do cause harm. Children do not get enough exercise. They are more prone to asthma, eczema and other allergies because they do not have to fight off enough bacteria. Let them walk to school and eat some dirt.

Yesterday's report by the distinguished experts on the risk posed by mobile phones is a good review of the current state of knowledge, and its conclusion can be summed up as a large "Don't know". That is the kind of conclusion that modern society, with its lust for certainty, is bad at handling.

Their recommendation that the use of mobiles by children should be minimised errs on the side of caution, as it should. But then a similar committee in the 1950s, if told that people would spend 25 hours a week in front of a cathode-ray tube, would probably have recommended that children should not watch "inessential" television.

Only three effects of using mobiles have been proved. One is a slight heating of the brain. On that basis, we might as well prevent children from wearing hats.

The second is a speeding-up of reaction times in robust, controlled experiments that compare random groups of people whose heads were subjected - or not - to the low levels of microwaves emitted by mobile phones. That is worrying, because it suggests that this kind of radiation has some biological effect. That warrants caution and further research.

The third is an increased chance of death or injury from using a mobile while driving. The risk is greatest when the phone is hand-held but still significant when it is hands-free, because the driver visualises the disembodied other party and cannot see the road or its obstacles.

Let us, therefore, get the priorities in the right order. We should stop the parents using mobiles in the car, not the children using them in the street.

The serious threats to the health of children - apart from being run over by an adult driving without due care and attention - include teenage pregnancy, drugs and abduction. The trick is how to balance information and education with allowing children to take responsibility their own choices.

One of the joys of mobile phones - all right, well not joy exactly - is that they do allow the parents of teenagers to give them some independence while preserving an invisible electronic umbilical cord.

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