Parents' tech, text distractions may endanger children

Published: Friday, Oct. 5 2012 9:32 p.m. MDT

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Emergency doctors are worried after seeing an increase in injuries to young children following many years of decline. They theorize that gains from safer playgrounds and toys are being challenged by technology distractions such as texting that steal a parent's attention.

No formal studies confirm it, but "What you have is an association," Gary Smith, founder and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, told The Wall Street Journal. "Being able to prove causality is the issue. … It certainly is a question that begs to be asked."

Nonfatal injuries to children under 5 had been falling for a long time, starting in the mid-'70s. But from 2007 to 2010, the number of such injuries rose 12 percent, as reported by emergency room records, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, the Journal article noted that more Americans 13 and older have smartphones, from nearly 9 million in mid-2007 to 63 million in late 2010 and 114 million in July 2012, based on numbers from comScore.

What could be a statistical anomaly could also be an extension of the dangers already proven when people text or play with their phones and do other activities, such as distracted driving or walking, the experts warn.

"It's very well understood within the emergency medicine community that utilizing devices — handheld devices — while you are assigned to watch your kids — that resulting injuries could very well be because you are utilizing those tools," Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the emergency center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopedic Hospital, told the Journal.

Distraction is not an excuse, and law enforcement and others are paying attention when someone is injured. Tracie Egan Morrissey recounts two of the stories on Jezebel:

"Authorities are now reviewing a caregiver's social networking and texting activity when a child has been injured, or in some cases killed, to look for signs of neglect and pressing charges accordingly. One woman was charged with reckless endangerment in the second degree and risk of injury to a minor after the toddler she was babysitting nearly drowned in a hotel pool while she was texting. She told police that she had only looked down for about 20 seconds before she realized that the boy had sunk to the bottom of the pool. After reviewing hotel security tapes, officers noted that the woman had been completely consumed by her phone for three minutes while the boy was first flailing, and then sinking," she wrote.

"Another woman's 2-year-old son accidentally drowned in a swimming pool with the Florida Department of Children and Families concluding that his death was 'a direct result' of inadequate supervision. The mother had been tweeting about a tortoise in her backyard for five minutes while the child was dying."

Technology may affect the connection between parents and children in different negative ways, warned Forbes contributor Dr. Robert Glatter. It may impact language development and emotional ties. Besides that, "as we raise future generations, the technology that we embrace to communicate and transmit data has the potential to effect our children, not only emotionally or socially, but also physically and place them in danger when not properly supervised — certainly something to consider as a parent of a young child the next time you send or receive a text message."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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