- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2008

COLUMN:

Knee pads? Check. Low-sodium, sugar-free diet? Check. Annual well-child physical?

Check. Seat belts in the minivan and helmets on the bike? Check.

Cell phone? Not so fast.

According to a study released in Europe, your child’s risk of brain cancer may jump as much as five times if he or she uses a cell phone as a youngster.

Presented in Sweden, the research concludes that children who start using cell phones before the age of 20 are much more likely to contract glioma, as well as two other forms of cancer. Or not.

Some scientists say the risk of cell phones causing cancer is real; others say it’s just research-induced hysteria that isn’t relevant because the technology has become far safer in the past few years than the mobile phones that would have caused the cancer found in the research.

In fact, some commentators say cell phones make your kids safer because they have a communication tool with which to contact you in the event of abduction. (Because, geez, a bad guy kidnapping your child would never think to grab her cell phone from her. Duh.)

What’s a parent to do? Once again, we face the challenge of sorting out some confusing science in order to implement a best practice for our children.

Cell phone or no cell phone? I’m reminded of a few choices I faced when my children were smaller: Do I put my infants on their backs or their stomachs? Feed them solid foods at six months or wait ‘til they’re a year old? Baby walker or no baby walker?

At some point I concluded the best way to parent probably was by flipping a coin.

Since we moms and dads can’t possibly know the validity of any particular study, and since it takes a really long time for scientific people to agree on anything (think evolution, global warming, the cause of the common cold), I’m sticking with the one thing I know I can count on: Common sense.

I know. It’s radical. But more parents really ought to apply this.

Here’s how it works in my house with respect to differing points of view on the safety of cell phones: Cell phones are not toys; therefore, generally speaking, cell phones are not for children.

But what about for their safety? My common-sense answer: Make sure the safety of any situation is not dependent on the presence of a cell phone, because common sense suggests that children lose things. Things such as cell phones.

On the other hand, cell phones are good for communicating, and when children become teenagers, being able to communicate with them is a good thing. Even better when the thing you want to communicate is: “Where the heck are you, and why are you not home?”

This isn’t rocket science - or even molecular biology.

The debate about the safety of cell phones for children may rage on for a generation while the scientists collect enough data to make a pronouncement with which everyone can concur. By then, if some researchers are correct, we’ll have medical wards full of brain cancer patients, all of whom wore helmets whenever they rode a bicycle.

In the meantime, in the inexact science of parenting, my approach may be just as effective as a computer model and millions of gigabytes of analysis. Anyway, it’s the only thing I can actually understand.

• Marybeth Hicks is the author of “Bringing Up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid’s Childhood in a Grow-Up-Too-Fast World.” Visit her at www.marybethhicks.com or www.bringingupgeeks.com.

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