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Mobile Phone And Kids: Helpful Or Harmful?
Yemen Times
June 26, 2008

Mohammed Ziyad is a nine year old boy who has had his own mobile phone for the last three months. His mom gave it to him in order to keep track of his movements while he is out of home with friends.

“If he is in the house, I take the mobile away from him. But when he is away, I give it to him. It is my way of making sure he is alright and communicating with him when he is on his own,” said his mother.

“I like having my own mobile phone, and I only wish mom would have let me pick a better one," said Mohammed. "I want one of the more expensive ones because the kids in school show off with what type of phone they have,” he added.

Mohamed said he knows that his mom bought it to check on him while he is away, but he admitted that he makes a few phone calls to his friends as well.

Many kids like Mohammed use mobile phones to exchange photos, music and SMS text messages. They play games with them and sometimes use them more efficiently than adults do.

“My mother asks me to change the programming for her or to find some lost pictures," said Waddah, a 10-year-old boy. "I feel good that I can do this and she cannot. I know everything about my phone and every time there is a new version I pester my mom to buy it for me.”

Most of the time, the children's mothers pay for the phone expenses, which are usually calling cards and not phone line bills. Mothers claim that the kids have a fixed budget, although some of the kids admitted that they buy cards on their own if they have money.

“Mom thinks she knows how much I spend on the mobile phone, but she is wrong. She gives me allowances and I save from it to buy new covers, to download tunes or to buy calling cards and she hardly notices,” confessed Ali, a 13-year-old boy who has had his mobile phone for the last two years. His current phone is the third one he's owned because he exchanged the others with friends or bought them from the second-hand shops.

Nasser Abdullah, an owner of a video game store on Al-Dhairy Street, said that most of the teenagers and kids who come into his store have mobile phones and that most of them use the phones “badly.” He mentioned that what they do the most is send each other songs and video clips. “Sometimes they use them to chat with their girlfriends,” he added, pointing out that these kids have a world of their own when they are together and that its difficult to talk to them.

An expert’s warnings
While some experts are warning of the physical and social effects of mobile phones, its usage around the world had been dramatically increasing over the last few years. However, what concerns these experts the most is the mobile phone boom for children, and Yemeni children are no exception to the trend.

One of the most controversial studies was published this past February by a top Australian neurosurgeon, Dr. Vini Khurana. The scientist claimed that to have found evidence that using handsets for more than 10 years can double the risk of brain cancer. Khurana also adds that risks from using the mobile phones have far broader public health effects than asbestos and smoking, especially on children since their brains are not fully developed and since they will have more cumulative exposure than adults.

The study said that mobile phone radiation could heat the side of the head or potentially thermoelectrically interact with the brain, while Bluetooth devices and "unshielded" headsets could convert the user's head into a potentially self-harming antenna and cause a brain tumor later in life, on preferred side for using the mobile phone.

Khurana mentioned in his study that the reason why the relationship between mobile phones and brain tumors have not been proven yet is due to the fact that the wide-spread use of mobiles has increased only recently and that these tumors usually take several years to form. He added that he expects his claims to be definitively proven in five to 10 years from now.

He also urged governments worldwide to take immediate steps in reducing radiation exposure from cell phones. France and Germany have both warned their citizens about the excessive use of cell phones, especially by children.

No final answer yet
According the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no concrete proof yet that mobile phones are damaging to health. However, WHO said that if mobile phones do turn out to be damaging, then children will be at greater risk because their brains and bodies are not fully developed.

In 2001, the U.S. National Cancer Institute said there was no increased risk of brain tumors in cell phone users in comparison to non-users.

In general, most reports on the subject recommended limiting the use of mobile phones among children although there is an absence of explicit scientific data confirming negative repercussions for them. According to the WHO, this is because of the ethical and practical concerns that limit or prevent experimental studies performed on children.

The WHO also added that because of a much higher cumulative exposure than today’s adults, children might be more vulnerable to any effects of radiation.

The Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bio-effects Research, partly funded by the Australian government, has already confirmed in a study of 110 adults that mobile phones cause a change in brain function by altering brainwaves known as alpha waves. However, there was no indication whether the effect on health was positive or negative.

Mobile phones can isolate children
Dr. Tahr Shaltoot is a psychological expert who appeared on Al-Jazeera television channel during a show on the increasing phenomenon of mobile phone usage among children in the Arab world. He mentioned that one of the most damaging aspects of children using mobile phones is that it isolates them from the world around them.

“Due to the fact that modern mobile phones now have a lot of entertaining applications, the child tends to spend more time using the phone and less time around their families though they are with them at the same house, which is of course dangerous,” he said. Shaltoot added that when the child becomes isolated, parents lose the ability to monitor and guide their child in appropriate ways.

When asked about the psychological effects on children who cannot afford to buy or who are not allowed to buy mobile phones like their friends, Shaltoot said that parents shouldn’t give their children whatever they want since that will affect their enthusiasm for accomplishing things on their own.

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