The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that nonfatal injuries to children under age five rose 12 percent between 2007 and 2010, despite a decline in the years before 2007. At the same time, the number of Americans who own a smartphone has grown from 9 million to 63 million at the end of 2010, according to research firm comScore. Emergency room doctors don’t see this as a coincidence.
“It’s very well understood within the emergency-medicine community that utilizing devices — hand-held devices — while you are assigned to watch your kids — that resulting injuries could very well be because you are utilizing those tools,” says Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the emergency center at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, to the Wall Street Journal.
While the connection makes complete sense, doctors and researchers face some struggles in proving there’s a direct link. For starters, children — especially babies and toddlers — are naturally prone to accidents. Learning to walk and handle the world around you is bound to cause some falls, even if the parent is watching closely.
Also, people tend to pick and chose when it comes to self-evaluation. According to the Wall Street Journal, parents don’t report distraction as a cause for accidents, for fear of being judged. In addition, they tend to under-report how much time they spend on their mobiles, whether it’s because they’re unsure or because they don’t want to face criticism.
But other data supports the idea that parents’ attention is key in protecting kids from injury. Barbara Morrongiello, a psychology professor at the University of Guelph in Canada, conducted a survey of over 60 families. She found that 67 percent of the kids’ injuries occurred when a parent wasn’t supervising or was only listening intermittently, while 10 percent occurred when a parent was watching.
Despite this very close connection, more research must be done to prove that texting is a cause rather than a coincidence.
“What you have is an association,” says Dr. Gary Smith, founder and director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Being able to prove causality is the issue.”
Do you text while watching your child? How do you make sure you’re not distracted by your smartphone?