2014-10-02 / Opinions

Are our youngest children suffering injuries from parents being distracted by their smartphones?

By KIP BURKE
news editor

Why are young children having more accidents lately?

A story recently in the Wall Street Journal reports that, after years of fewer and fewer child accident injuries, there’s suddenly a significant jump in the number of nonfatal injuries to children under age five.

Suddenly the youngest kids are getting hurt more often.

Based on emergency-room records reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, injuries to young children rose 12 percent in the last few years. What’s worse, swimming pool accidents with injuries jumped by a horrifying 36 percent during that time, and accidents involving infants’ changing tables are up by more than 30 percent.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that children are getting hurt more during activities and at ages when parents are, normally, supervising closely. It just doesn’t make sense. After all the things we’ve done for child safety – pool fencing, car safety seats, awareness programs – suddenly we’re getting less safe? Our youngest kids are getting hurt more? Why?

Well, some experts say it’s because parents are now more distracted by their smartphones.

Just as using a cell phone makes driving more dangerous, using smartphones reduces parents’ ability to give that critical second-by-second supervision to very young children. The Wall Street Journal reports that emergency-room doctors are “seeing the growing use of hand-held electronic devices as a plausible explanation for the surprising reversal of a long slide in injury rates for young children. There have even been a few extreme cases of death and near drowning.” Not all doctors are quite ready to say there’s a direct link between parents’ increasing use of smartphones and the increase in injuries to children, but ER doctors say they’re seeing it every day. Parents are right there, supervising their children, but get distracted for 20 or 30 seconds reading a text or sending a tweet or posting a picture to Facebook, and in the few seconds their eyes are off their children, they get injured.

Well, it’s been a couple of decades since my boys were under five, but I remember being amazed at what little escape artists they were. They could go from playing safely right before my eyes to magically being out of sight and up to something in seconds, even with me watching them like a hawk. My wife and I soon learned just how closely we had to watch the little guys, and they have a few scars to show for the times we got it wrong.

I learned that just shifting my attention to the television, or talking on the phone, took just enough of my brainpower for me to miss the subtle clues that my boys were about to go astray. They may have even seen my distraction as a chance to get away with a little mischief, the little angels. Either way, I know how easy it is to get distracted.

What’s scary is that I was right there, supervising my boys at play, and they still managed to get into a situation that hurt them. Why didn’t I see it coming?

Now, I didn’t write this to make parents of young children feel guilty, or to say that texting is evil. I use my smartphone a hundred times a day to text, email, chat, check Facebook, and it’s a handy device. But I can’t help but wonder how many times young mothers and dads have looked up from their phones and seen their children very close to being in danger, or already there.

We just have to realize that when we’re using our phones, we’re not all there. There’s a time to put it away and interface with our precious children face-to-face, with no distractions.

What’s more important, really?

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