The long-term downward trend in the number injuries to young children is no longer. Sadly, urgent care and emergency room doctors are now seeing more children aged 0-14 years with unintentional injuries. While the exact causes are yet to be determined, there is a growing body of anecdotal evidence that points to distraction among patents and supervisors — it’s the texting stupid!
The great irony is that should your child suffer an injury while you were using your smartphone, you’ll be able to contact the emergency room much more quickly now — courtesy of the very same smartphone.
One sunny July afternoon in a San Francisco park, tech recruiter Phil Tirapelle was tapping away on his cellphone while walking with his 18-month-old son. As he was texting his wife, his son wandered off in front of a policeman who was breaking up a domestic dispute.
Yet a few minutes after the incident, he still had his phone out. “I’m a hypocrite. I admit it,” he says. “We all are.”
Is high-tech gadgetry diminishing the ability of adults to give proper supervision to very young children? Faced with an unending litany of newly proclaimed threats to their kids, harried parents might well roll their eyes at this suggestion. But many emergency-room doctors are worried: They see 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.
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.
Child-safety experts say injury rates had been declining since at least the 1970s, thanks to everything from safer playgrounds to baby gates on staircases to fences around backyard swimming pools. “It was something we were always fairly proud of,” says Dr. Jeffrey Weiss, a pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital who serves on an American Academy of Pediatrics working group for injury, violence and poison prevention. “The injuries were going down and down and down.” The recent uptick, he says, is “pretty striking.”
Childhood-injury specialists say there appear to be no formal studies or statistics to establish a connection between so-called device distraction and childhood injury. “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…. It certainly is a question that begs to be asked.”
It is well established that using a smartphone while driving or even crossing a street increases the risk of accident. More than a dozen pediatricians, emergency-room physicians, academic researchers and police interviewed by The Wall Street Journal say that a similar factor could be at play in injuries to young children.
“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.