Kids and Smartphones: More Warnings about Impact on Sleep Quality, Social, Emotional, and Cognitive Development

By B.N. Frank

Tech insiders (aka “Silicon Valley Parents”) have gone to great lengths to limit their own kids’ use and exposure to screens.  This includes making their nannies sign “no screens” contracts and sending their kids to private low tech or no tech schools.  This has been going on FOR MANY YEARS so they must have at least suspected that screen use could harm kids.

Of course health experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have been warning FOR MANY YEARS about kids’ use and exposure to screens, smartphones and other sources of wireless technology.  Activist Post has highlighted some of their warnings though it’s difficult to keep up with all of them (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

Here’s another one courtesy of Environmental Health Trust:

Kids and smartphones: a warning for parents about harmful impacts

PhD researcher Sumudu Mallawaarachchi and Dr Sharon Horwood from Deakin University’s School of Psychology found that the more time toddlers and pre-schoolers spend on smartphones and iPads, the greater risk of negative impacts on their social, emotional, and cognitive development and sleep quality and quantity.

Read the press release at Deakin University online here.

09 April 2021

Kids and smartphones: a warning for parents about harmful impacts

Young children who spend large amounts of time on mobile screens are more likely to have problems sleeping and managing their emotions and behaviour, a new study has confirmed.

PhD researcher Sumudu Mallawaarachchi and Dr Sharon Horwood from Deakin University’s School of Psychology found that the more time toddlers and pre-schoolers spend on smartphones and iPads, the greater risk of negative impacts on their social, emotional, and cognitive development and sleep quality and quantity.

Ms Mallawaarachchi said the results of their recent study reveal the harms caused by prolonged use of mobile screens is likely to outweigh any perceived benefits for toddlers and pre-schoolers.

“Our research reviewed all the relevant national and international studies looking at developmental factors and mobile screen use in early childhood,” Ms Mallawaarachchi said.

“The findings so far indicate that toddlers and pre-schoolers who use mobile screens more often and for longer periods of time are more likely to have problems managing their emotions and behaviour and getting poorer quality sleep.

“But we also discovered huge gaps in our knowledge around the long-term impacts of mobile screen use in young children revealing the need to look more closely at the impacts of things like types and reasons for screen use by young children,” Ms Mallawaarachchi said.

The research team has launched a new research project which involves a national survey of parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers and the screen use in their homes.

Dr Horwood said that given their portability and web-connectivity, mobile screens may have a completely different impact on development compared to older screen technologies such as televisions.

“For example, we know that at least half of toddlers and pre-schoolers who use mobile screens use them on their own, so to understand how to manage screen use in early childhood we need to know more about how kids are using screens now,” Dr Horwood said.

“Overall, the negative findings are quite worrying given the wide use of educational apps that are available and considered beneficial for young children.

“We need further research exclusively on the impacts of mobile screens, instead of combining them with other types of screen use.

“We would urge parents of toddlers and pre-schoolers to respond to our survey and tell us about screen use in their home.

“Until we have better understanding of the impacts, parents should probably err on the side of caution with early childhood screen use. Given how critical early childhood is in terms of the vast amounts of brain development that occurs, the sooner we can establish healthy habits and lifestyle behaviours, the less challenges young children are likely to face as they develop,” Dr Horwood said.

Environmental Health Trust has documented the scientific research connecting screen use and wireless radiation with harmful effects in children.

Scientific research on wireless radiation has found impacts to the brain such as; decreased and damaged brain cells in animals exposed as adults and prenatally (Suleyman et al, 2016,Sonmez et a 2010, Bas et al.2009, 2009); impacts to blood brain barrier (Nittby 2010,Sirav and Seyhan2011); altered brain activity in a major NIH study (Volkow et al. 2011); decreased memory in replicated research on hundreds of teenagers exposed for only one year (Foerster et al. 2018); decreased memory and hyperactivity after prenatal exposure in Yale study (Aldad et al., 2011);  behavioral problems after pre/postnatal exposures in replicated University of California School of Public Health studies (Divan et al., 2008,2012); and hyperactivity/inattention problems in children after prenatal exposure (Birks et al., 2017).

Numerous studies in different laboratories in different parts of the world have found harmful impacts.

The US National Toxicology Program found DNA damage in the frontal cortex of male mice, in the blood of female mice (1,900 MHz) and hippocampus of male rats (900 MHz) exposed for only a few months (Smith Roe et al.,  2020) as well as clear evidence of cancer in male rats exposed for two years (NTP 2018).

AfeBabalola University in  Nigeria found animals exposed to Wi-Fi had vascular congestion, DNA damage in brain tissue, decreases in AChEactivity and increases in anxiety levels (Ibitayo et al 2017, Obajuluwa et al. 2017) as well as alterations in hematological and biochemical parameters (Bamikole et al, 2019)

Turkish researchers have found harmful effects from wireless radiation such as increased sperm head defects and decreased weight of reproductive organ tissues  (Dasdag 2015); altered expression of some miRNAs (Dasdag 2015). “Conclusion: Long-term exposure of 2.4 GHz RF may lead to adverse effects such as neurodegenerative diseases originating from the alteration of some miRNA expression…”  (Dasdag 2015)

Scientific Research on Screens and Children

Gadi Lissak. “Adverse physiological and psychological effects of screen time on children and adolescents: Literature review and case study.” Environmental Research, Volume 164, 2018, Pages 149-157, ISSN 0013-9351.

  • Concerns about the potential vulnerability of children to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) fields is increasing as children’s exposure to wireless devices is on the rise. Children are considered potentially more vulnerable to RF-EMR fields because of the susceptibility of their developing nervous system. Additionally, their brain tissue is more conductive, consequently allowing more RF-EMR penetration relative to the size of their head. Moreover, they will be exposed to RF fields for more years than adults (Kheifets et al., 2005). For years researchers believed that non-heating RF-EMR radiation could not cause harm. Evidence which links RF radiation to cancer were published by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) of the U.S. National Institute of Health, which released partial findings from its cell phone study on rats.”
  • Infertility is a prevalent disorder that affects, in the US about 7% of men and 11% of women (National Institute of Health, 2017). Experimental animal and humans studies explored the effects of RF-EMR on the male reproductive function. RF-EMR was found to affect various organs, including the testes, directly or through a thermal effect, e.g., when a cell phone is carried in the trouser pocket near the testes (Yildirim et al., 2015). With emerging data of a decline in male semen quality, mobile phones were examined as a possible contributing factor. Results of these studies show that exposure to RF-EMR through cellular phone use or through use of laptops or tablets is related to carcinogenic risk and reproductive damage (Adams et al., 2014; Yildirim et al.; Sepehrimanesh et al., 2017; La Vignera et al., 2012).”
  • Abstract: A growing body of literature is associating excessive and addictive use of digital media with physical, psychological, social and neurological adverse consequences. Research is focusing more on mobile devices use, and studies suggest that duration, content, after-dark-use, media type and the number of devices are key components determining screen time effects. Physical health effects: excessive screen time is associated with poor sleep and risk factors for cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure, obesity, low HDL cholesterol, poor stress regulation (high sympathetic arousal and cortisol dysregulation), and Insulin Resistance. Other physical health consequences include impaired vision and reduced bone density. Psychological effects: internalizing and externalizing behavior is related to poor sleep. Depressive symptoms and suicidal are associated to screen time induced poor sleep, digital device night use, and mobile phone dependency. ADHD-related behavior was linked to sleep problems, overall screen time, and violent and fast-paced content which activates dopamine and the reward pathways. Early and prolonged exposure to violent content is also linked to risk for antisocial behavior and decreased prosocial behavior. Psychoneurological effects: addictive screen time use decreases social coping and involves craving behavior which resembles substance dependence behavior. Brain structural changes related to cognitive control and emotional regulation are associated with digital media addictive behavior. A case study of a treatment of an ADHD diagnosed 9-year-old boy suggests screen time induced ADHD-related behavior could be inaccurately diagnosed as ADHD. Screen time reduction is effective in decreasing ADHD-related behavior.

    Conclusions:  Components crucial for psychophysiological resilience are none-wandering mind (typical of ADHDrelated behavior), good social coping and attachment, and good physical health. Excessive digital media use by children and adolescents appears as a major factor which may hamper the formation of sound psychophysiological resilience.

Garrett C. Hisler, Brant P. Hasler, Peter L. Franzen, Duncan B. Clark, Jean M. Twenge, Screen media use and sleep disturbance symptom severity in children, Sleep Health, Volume 6, Issue 6, 2020, Pages 731-742, ISSN 2352-7218,

  • This study examined associations of different types of screen media with symptom severity of different classes of sleep-wake disturbances. Results: Greater screen media use, TV, video, and video game use, was associated with decreased sleep duration, increased sleep onset latency as well as greater excessive sleepiness, insomnia, and overall sleep disturbance symptom severity. Use of these screen medias were also associated with clinically relevant sleep problems. Ethnoracial differences emerged in screen use and sleep, but did not moderate the association between screen use and sleep.
  • Conclusions: Greater use of screen medias was not just associated with longer sleep onset latency and shorter sleep duration, but also increased severity of multiple types of sleep-wake disturbances. Future research should use longitudinal designs to determine the direction of these associations in adolescent populations.

Stiglic N, Viner RM. “Effects of screentime on the health and well-being of children and adolescents: a systematic review of reviews.” BMJ Open 2019; 9:e023191. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2018-023191

Boers, Elroy, Mohammad H Afzali, Nicola Newton, and Patricia Conrod. 2019. “Association of Screen Time and Depression in Adolescence.” JAMA Pediatrics 173(9): 853–59.

Hutton, John S et al. 2019. “Associations Between Screen-Based Media Use and Brain White Matter Integrity in  Preschool-Aged Children.” JAMA pediatrics 174(1): e193869.

Madigan, Sheri et al. 2019. “Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test.” JAMA Pediatrics 173(3): 244–50.

Buabbas, A.J., Al-Mass, M.A., Al-Tawari, B.A. et al. The detrimental impacts of smart technology device overuse among school students in Kuwait: a cross-sectional survey. BMC Pediatr 20, 524 (2020).

  • “The overuse of ST devices per day and per session by school-aged children has the potential to have a detrimental impact on their health, as has been noticed among students in Kuwait.”

Tamana SK, Ezeugwu V, Chikuma J, Lefebvre DL, Azad MB, Moraes TJ, et al. (2019) Screen-time is associated with inattention problems in preschoolers: Results from the CHILD birth cohort study. PLoS ONE 14(4): e0213995.

Stiglic N, Viner RM, Effects of screentime on the health and well-being of children and adolescents: a systematic review of reviews BMJ Open 2019;9:e023191. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-023191

Smartphones and Sleep

Carter, Ben et al. 2016. “Association Between Portable Screen-Based Media Device Access or Use and Sleep Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” JAMA Pediatrics 170(12): 1202–8.

“Schoeni A, Roser K, Röösli M. Symptoms and cognitive functions in adolescents in relation to mobile phone use during night. PLoS One. 2015 Jul 29;10(7):e0133528. doi:

Moreno, Megan A. 2016. “Media Use and Sleep.” JAMA Pediatrics 170(12): 1236.

Madigan, Sheri et al. 2019. “Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test.” JAMA Pediatrics 173(3): 244–50.

Bandara, Priyanka, and David O Carpenter. “Planetary Electromagnetic Pollution: It Is Time to Assess Its Impact.” The Lancet Planetary Health 2, no. 12 (December 1, 2018): e512–14.

Pall M. “Wi-Fi is an important threat to human health.” Environmental Research, Volume 164, July 2018, Pages 405-416.

Foerster M., Thielens A., Joseph W., Eeftens M., Röösli M. (2018) “A prospective cohort study of adolescents’ memory performance and individual brain dose of microwave radiation from wireless communication.”Environmental Health Perspectives.

Anthony B. Miller, L. Lloyd Morgan, Iris Udasin, Devra Lee Davis. “Cancer epidemiology update, following the 2011 IARC evaluation of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (Monograph 102).” Environmental Research, Volume 167, 2018, Pages 673-683, ISSN 0013-9351.

IARC Working Group on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. “IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans. Non-Ionizing Radiation, Part 2: Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields.” IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans/World Health Organization, International Agency for Research on Cancer vol. 102, 2013.

Sangün Ö, Dündar B, Çömlekçi S, Büyükgebiz A. The effects of electromagnetic field on the endocrine system in children and adolescents. Pediatr Endocrinol Rev. 2015 Dec;13(2):531-45.

Oni, M.O., D.B. Amuda and C.E. Gilbert. “Effects of radiofrequency radiation from WiFi devices on human ejaculated semen.” International Journal of Recent Research and Applied Studies, vol. 9, no. 2, 2011, pp. 292-4.

Farah Hanan Fathihah Jaffar, Khairul Osman, Nur Hilwani Ismail, Kok-Yong Chin, Siti Fatimah Ibrahim, Adverse Effects of Wi-Fi Radiation on Male Reproductive System: A Systematic Review, The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine, 2019, Volume 248, Issue 3, Pages 169-179, Released July 26, 2019

Papageorgio, C.C., et al. “Effects of Wi-Fi signals on the p300 component of event-related potentials during an auditory hayling task.” Journal of Integrative Neuroscience, vol. 10, no. 2, 2011, pp. 189-202.

Children More Vulnerable to Wireless Radiation

Fernández, C., A.A. de Salles, M.E. Sears, R.D. Morris, D.L. Davis. “Absorption of wireless radiation in the child versus adult brain and eye from cell phone conversation or virtual reality.” Environmental Research, 2018, ISSN 0013-9351.

Gandhi, O. P. (2019). “Microwave Emissions From Cell Phones Exceed Safety Limits in Europe and the US When Touching the Body.” IEEE Access, 7, 47050-47052.

Fernandez-Rodriguez, C.E., A.A.A. De Salles and Devra Lee Davis. “Dosimetric Simulations of Brain Absorption of Mobile Phone Radiation–The Relationship Between psSAR and Age.”  IEEE Access 3 (2015): 2425-2430.

Activist Post reports regularly about unsafe technology.  For more information, visit our archives and the following websites:

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