Do Smartphones Make Dumb Parents?

October 02,2012
Erin Dower( )

For the first time since at least the 1970s, injury rates for little kids are on the rise. Could it have something to do with the boom in smartphone sales, and the resulting wave of parental distraction? Hold on... need to check my Facebook feed.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported about "The Perils of Texting While Parenting," noting: "Nonfatal injuries to children under age five rose 12% between 2007 and 2010, after falling for much of the prior decade, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on emergency-room records. The number of Americans 13 and older who own a smartphone such as an iPhone or BlackBerry has grown from almost 9 million in mid-2007, when Apple introduced its device, to 63 million at the end of 2010 and 114 million in July 2012, according to research firm comScore."

We've all seen (or been?) the parents, nannies, and babysitters with their eyes glued to their smartphone for anywhere from seconds to minutes while a child does their own thing -- on a playground, a city sidewalk, or in a busy public place. And we all know how long it takes for a child to get hurt or lost (split seconds). Most of us are smart enough to realize that's a dangerous combination. But... hold on. I just got a text.

You get the point. We're digitally connected, and compulsively distracted. The "ding" of a text tends to signal "ASAP" in our minds, and refreshing our Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest feeds is, well, refreshing. Social media is a happy distraction and an isolation-buster for parents of young kids, but it might come with a price.

The WSJ article cited some sad examples. There's the case of a woman who was "watching" someone else's child at a hotel pool and got caught up in taking and text messaging her own photo to a friend. The 2-year-old drowned and lost consciousness but was fortunately saved by a pool attendant who knew CPR. And there's incident of a different 2-year-old who drowned (and died) while his mother was busy tweeting (before, during, and after the tragedy, it seems). Strange but true.

The article also reports: "In a 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, 14% of adults and 22% of adults who send text messages reported being so distracted by their devices that they have physically bumped into an object or person." Texting is effectively like having a paper bag over your head.

So, while we're on the playground, at the pool, near a street (busy or not), have the stove/oven/fireplace on, or have a baby on a changing table or somewhere they can fall from, etc., I propose this:

Must have your eyes on your phone? MUST hold your tot's hand.