Do cell phones cause behavioral problems?
December 7th, 2010
12:01 AM ET

Do cell phones cause behavioral problems?

Evidence of harm from cell phones continues to emerge: First there was the possible cancer link, and now there's suggestion that those little hand-held devices may affect children's behavior.

Children who had exposure to cell phones both in the womb and after birth, up to age 7  had a higher likelihood of behavioral problems than those who had no exposure, researchers said in a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

The behavioral problems include hyperactivity and attention and social issues.

"These are important findings, but we are just at the beginnings of learning about potential effects of cell phones," said Leeka Kheifets, of the Department of Epidemiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Health.

Kheifets and colleagues had previously found similar results in a smaller sample, of 13,000 children from the Danish National Birth Cohort. But she said that analysis needed further scrutiny because the mothers in it had been among the earliest adopters of cell phones, she said.

In this study, the researchers looked at more than 28,000 children. More than 10 percent of children who had prenatal exposure to cell phones had mothers who said they spoke on their cell phones four times a day or more. Nearly 50 percent of mothers said they had a cell phone turned on at all times.   Again, these figures are based on self-reporting by the mothers who participated in the study.

They found that, as with the previous study, the more frequently a mother used a cell phone, the greater the risk that her child would have a behavioral problem. This time around, they also ruled out a family history of behavioral problems, as well as the inattention of the mother. Cell phone use and behavior problems were not related to time breast feeding and spent with the child, either, the researchers found.

The association between cell phone exposure is not terribly strong, Kheifets said. Also, the authors do not yet know the mechanism behind the connection between cell phones and behavioral problems. One theory is that cell phone use may lead to excess secretion of the hormone melatonin, which can affect the mother's metabolism and may influence the development of the fetus's brain. But this is just a speculation, Kheifets said.

There is also no way to know whether the mothers were telling the truth about the amount of cell phone time they had. It's impossible to tell from this research whether cell phone exposure really causes behavioral problems.

Still, given how many people use cell phones in the world, it's important to keep an eye on possible harms, Kheifets said. She recommends limiting exposure to radiation through the use of hands-free devices.

soundoff (840 Responses)
  1. Sarah

    id be interested in knowing how close in proximity the cell phone was to the kid while the mother was using it. women could use the cell phone when they are at work, kids are napping, etc and it could lead to hormonal changes that may impact parenting (or fetus development if it's while the woman is pregnant)......if this wasn't accounted for then i question study.

    December 7, 2010 at 15:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ruby

    Yeah, how about the likelihood that the moms using the cell phones constantly pay little or sporadic attention to the children, and that the attention deficit disorder they cite is actually a learned behavior rather than physically linked to the use of the cell phone? Just a theory...

    December 7, 2010 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • teresa, ohio

      @RUBY: its a GREAT THEORY... absolutely great. And most likely the CORRECT ONE. Moms are dumb... I should know, I'm a mom. But lets share the blame with the idiot dads... gawd nose what they do with their parts ; )

      December 7, 2010 at 15:35 | Report abuse |
  3. teresa, ohio

    I dont think its the phone, I think its the moms overall stupidity. If she is dumb enough to stay on a cell phone long enough
    for there to be any possible side effects, than she is dumb enough not to know to take care of her health.

    The human body is flawed, male and female alike. We produce flawed offspring, all parents get their own little bundle
    of flawedness. DEAL WITH IT.

    And dont forget to blame the dads for propping their laptops on their "privates" to keep them sperm cells all nice and
    heated up and .... deteriorating.

    December 7, 2010 at 15:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Jen

    Sad thing is I am reading this on a cell phone...

    December 7, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrsFizzy

      ....and your child is running amok?? 😉

      December 7, 2010 at 16:59 | Report abuse |
  5. bradfdx

    Once again, questionable reporting on the part of CNN when it comes to science and research. There may or may not be a link here and the cautionary principle isn't necessarily a bad thing in this case. I'm not taking the opposing side. I just think it's shoddy reporting to leave some of the most important details to the very end. The researchers are clearly quite uncomfortable asserting there is causation here. They said "The association between cell phone exposure is not terribly strong" and " It's impossible to tell from this research whether cell phone exposure really causes behavioral problems." CNN – please educate your reporters. Responsible reporting on science and research requires careful attention to these details and a concerted effort to remain objective and avoid leading the reader to conclusions by leading with a poorly supported conclusion or the suggestion of one.

    December 7, 2010 at 15:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bradfdx

      To be clear. You should not lead with a statement that "Evidence of harm from cell phones continues to emerge" when, in fact, the researchers are saying there is little evidence and that it is very weak.

      December 7, 2010 at 15:45 | Report abuse |
  6. ET NOLA

    100% of those mothers breath air – 100% drink water – 95% watched TV – 78% are right handed...
    You can make numbers say anything. This is just a nonsense place holder piece of drivel and it I surprising that you even have this as an official CNN story. This is the kind of research that the government spends millions on (not this one, but trust me I am sure there are some just like it)

    December 7, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. razzlea

    Im not sure what to make of this article, Check out my health and fitness blog http://razzlea.blogspot.com/

    December 7, 2010 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Rachael

    I wonder how acurate this study is and if it stands up to peer review. There is no mention on whether the children's behavioral problems were self reported too. Maybe mothers that use cell phones also think their children behave badly. Also I question the statement "Evidence of harm from cell phones continues to emerge". The studies I read said that despite intense research, no actual evidence of harm from cell phones has been found. Trully objective research needs to be conducted on the dangers of cell phones. If there is REAL evidence that they harmful, those harms should be reduced immeidately. If no evidence is found then that should be shared widely in the news so people can stop worrying about problems that do not exist!

    December 7, 2010 at 16:08 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MrsFizzy

      Maybe they think they are behaving badly because they keep distracting them from their phones..!

      December 7, 2010 at 17:01 | Report abuse |
  9. TrudyBird

    I hope a lot of cell phone using parents are reading these comments!!!!

    December 7, 2010 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Christopher

    How about moms who drive while yapping away on their cell phones with kids in the car? I see that kind of danger every day here on the freeways of L.A.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. KC_in_CA

    "This time around, they also ruled out a family history of behavioral problems, as well as the inattention of the mother. "

    HOW ON EARTH can you rule out "inattention of the mother" in a self-reported study? Did any of the mothers actually report "well, I was so busy with my cell phone all day that I didn't do anything with my kid"? Of course not.

    Ask any mother of any age kid... What happens the instant you pick up the phone (any type phone) to make a call? The kids come running, demanding this snack, that treat, to watch this show, play that game – whatever. And there you are, trying to arrange for the plumber to come fix the broken toilet. OF COURSE you quickly give them what they want and go back to ignoring them so you can get on with it! Now multiply that by a thousand for all the mothers additicted to their cell phones, who are glued to them all day, who interrupt EVERY little thing they do to talk on the phone or text someone. Do their kids get ignored more than "non-cell-phone" moms? Of course they do. Does that lack of concentrated attention harm the child? Of course it does.

    Dumb study. Dumb parents looking for "it's not my fault" answers.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
    • KC_in_CA

      And yes, the same thing applies to dads. "Mom" is the generic when any parenting is discussed by that doesn't mean dads are excluded.

      Kids need parental attention... GOOD attention. They need someone to play a million games of CandyLand with them, someone to read them stories, someone to watch them twirl around a room until they get so dizzy they fall down. Kids need the attention of someone who loves them... male or female.

      December 7, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse |
  12. Read the Details

    "It's impossible to tell from this research whether cell phone exposure really causes behavioral problems."
    I like that the author waited until the second-to-last paragraph to state this.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Richard Pressinger

    Let's See – The brain grows at over 4,000 cells per second beginning in the 4th week of pregnancy. The factors governing their growth and eventual "landing spot" in the brain is a delicate combination of chemical and electrical input factors. Add this to the attrition caused by pesticides, plastics, chemicals in cosmetics, kerosene derivatives in fabric softeners and the list goes on and on. Thanks to our German inspired chemical industryu.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Airbag

    Well you better turn off the microwave too, and not talk on cordless telephones, or go outside, oh and steer clear of Hybrid vehicles.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. ggibson

    Its time to end the second hand smoke witch hunt and start the second hand wireless radiation witch hunt!

    December 7, 2010 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. ggm

    How many times have you seen a Mom and kid walking along, the kid 3 steps behind as the Mom talks on her phone, or how about the Mom/Dad talking on the phone in the car, while the kid sits there. What a missed opportunity to connect to you kids.

    December 7, 2010 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Joe

    Here's an idea: Maybe kids are acting out because they are not getting the attention they need while mommy is yaking it up on the tele all day long?? Stuff like this really blows me away and really makes me feel like we (as human beings) have lost a grip on reality....

    December 7, 2010 at 17:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Reason

    Wow – this is bad science. Funny how it says nothing about the AMOUNT and types of electromagnetic radiation a fetus is exposed to in general. Why? Because then there wouldn't be a story here. As long as they keep you stupid, they can claim anything they want.

    December 7, 2010 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Missed it

    Wow, does no one realise that a cell phone signal is non-directional? And that the difference in the radio signal is negligable from 1" to 200'. So anyone using their phone around you is sending the signal through you. And when you are outside everyone using a cell phone is transmitting the signal through you. Look around, everyone with a cell phone is transmitting a signal, even if it's just to tell the cell phone company that the phone is ready to take a call/text message. The only way to avoid wireless radiation is to wear a lead suit 24/7.

    December 7, 2010 at 17:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. In reality

    The behavior of the child is more affected when the mother won't get off her cell phone and pay attention to the child.

    December 7, 2010 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Briiiing

    I don't know about the kids. Cell phone usage, especially in business, creating
    stress has caused me nerve damage and ACHD. You can write me at the
    local sanitarium of our state for further details. Don't call. Send a letter.

    December 7, 2010 at 17:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Briiiing

    That's ADHD-see, neural damage "proof in the puddle," or is that "pudding?"

    December 7, 2010 at 17:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. George Wisegreek

    The sheer myopia and ignorance here is absolutely ASTOUNDING! So typical of so many simpletons in America today. Instead of people actually doing a bit of reading and research to find out about the proven dangers of RF radiation up close to the body, and potential concomitant effects, they disregard the notion or possibility. This is just one small example as to why America is slipping in academic performance compared to our foreign counterparts. Wake up people!

    December 7, 2010 at 17:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. jim

    I think I can get the same results testing mothers wearing lite red lipstick
    if this were to be tested right they would do something like lock baby rats in a room with a cellphone running for a couple generations

    December 7, 2010 at 18:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Dr Bill Toth

    I wonder if it's the cell phone that causes the children's behavioral issues or the fact they're being ignored by mom or don't have mom's full attention when mom is "always on the phone"??? Live With Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    December 7, 2010 at 18:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. butlerbulldawg74

    correlation not causation. imho.

    December 7, 2010 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Im not a doctor

    Much like Dr. Phil, I am not a doctor. And I suspect neither are most the people on this posting...

    Please consider the scientists and doctors concluded this study is not any real amount of evidence.

    Also I would like to put a spot light of shame on the writer for wasting peoples time and drumming up hysteria over what the scientific community has said "is not terribly strong (evidence)".

    as a matter of fact that should be the headline.." "The association between cell phone exposure and behavior problems is not terribly strong". Concludes Study that wasted lots of money for nothing."

    thanks for nothing attention grabbing journalist with low ethical standards, and the editor who allowed this rubbish.

    December 7, 2010 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. ks

    This is what I believe"
    Chronic phone yakkers who get pregnant will continue to yack on the phone after the baby is born. The behavioral problems are most likely a result of emotional and physical neglet by the mother to her phone addiction !!!!!!!

    December 8, 2010 at 23:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Meris Michaels

    More and more independent scientific studies are finding that there is a link between the use of cellphones and other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi and all kinds of health problems, including not only behavorial problems but also neurodegenerative diseases such as early-onset Alzheimer's and certain cancers. The utilization by children and adolescents of cell phones is particularly harmful because children absorb more radiation than adults. Refer to http://www.magdahavas.com for more information.

    December 10, 2010 at 10:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Paul

    A couple points. There are a lot of posts saying that the child's problems are a result of parental inattention. The article says that inattention of the parent was ruled out. That does not mean that inattention to the children is not a problem just that they are two different problems. Although the study was not as strong and conclusive as we would like it to be, I don't think the money was wasted as it is the beginning of a process that needs to be pursued so we can get to the root and find out what really goes on. It might be hard to get any real incriminating evidence out there and paid attention to, as there is a huge investment at stake and people do like their phones.

    Someone said that the signal strength is the same for the first 200'. Don't know where that physics came from but the signal decreases by an inverse square relationship so if you double the distance ie. from 1" to 2" then the power at 2" will be 1/4 of what it was at 1" at 3" , 1/9 at 4" 1/16 etc. Even if you get a directional antenna that only emits horizontally(which I suspect most do) to reduce losses it will have a more intense signal emitted as the energy that went up and down before is channeled into the horizontal, the signal will still decrease in the same way.

    December 11, 2010 at 11:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Camilla Åkesson

    When I speak in a cellphone (or someone standing next to me), I feel it in my brain. When I got pregnet, I quit speaking in cellphones toally. We do not have any wireless at all at home, because I am totally sure its not good for our health. If you want to know more read at: http://www.icems.eu/papers.htm?f=/c/a/2009/12/15/MNHJ1B49KH.DTL

    December 11, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. VinceRN

    The cool thing is a bunch of tax money probably went into this ridiculous research. A statistical correlation does not imply a causeal relationship. Can anyone here say past hoc ergo propter hoc?

    December 14, 2010 at 22:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Ted

    Good grief, there are so many qualifiers near the end of this article about how weak the study is, it is completely irresponsible to lead in with the statement that "Evidence of harm from cell phones continues to emerge." The "possible" cancer link that is cited is also so tenuous after so many years of study involving tens of thousands of people as to be laughable. When the average American's chance of getting cancer in their lifetime is already 42%, discussions about cancer and lifestyle choices should focus on cigarettes and diet, which are by far the biggest contributors among the variables that are within a person's control.

    December 15, 2010 at 06:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Andreas Moser

    Yes, cell phones cause problems: Many people behave as if they were the slaves of these little beeping gadgets: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/why-i-dont-answer-the-phone/

    March 20, 2011 at 12:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Yes I think it can cause brain damage

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