We all know that we shouldn't be texting while driving. Now, some public-health experts are pointing out that beyond the specific risk of car accidents, parents and caregivers who text may be increasing the risk of injury to their small children.
Previous research has shown that the risk of injury to a child increases when a parent isn't supervising or only listening intermittently, reports the Wall Street Journal. As smartphone use rises exponentially, child-injury experts are wondering if they're increasingly responsible for distraction.
They're looking at the parallel development of two American trends. According to the Journal story, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data on emergency-room visits shows a reversal in a general long-term decline in nonfatal injuries to children under the age of 5. But between 2007 and 2010, those injuries rose 12 per cent.
In the same time period, smartphone ownership for teens and adults has risen from nine million in mid-2007 to 114 million this summer, reports the Wall Street Journal.
There are no studies suggesting the statistics are linked.
"What you have is an association," Dr. 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."
Anecdotally, the evidence is pretty apparent – especially to any parent who has felt a twinge of regret for texting instead of watching. In the same piece, one father recalls what happened while he was texting his wife: His 18-month-old son wandered off and ended up in front of a policeman who was trying to break up a domestic dispute.
"One thing I learned is that multitasking makes you dumber," Phil Tirapelle told the Journal, adding that a few minutes after the incident he was still looking at his phone.
Other examples in the piece are more harrowing, including a near-drowning in which a woman asked to watch a friend's child at a pool was using her phone while her charge was sinking to the bottom of the pool. The child was resuscitated and recovered, but she was charged with reckless endangerment and risk of injury to a minor. In another case mentioned, a child died.
Barbara Morrongiello, a psychology professor at the University of Guelph, told the Journal that if you ask a parent or caregiver who is sending a text message "if they are paying attention, they would say, 'of course.' " But, she said, people "often underestimate how much time they're taking to do something." In the case of the near-drowning, the woman had been on the phone for three minutes, not the 20 seconds she recalled.
While there has also been a humourous framing of the trend as a side of laissez-faire, anti-helicoptor-parenting, these are chilling stories.
Parents, will you consider pocketing the smartphone the next time you're in charge of the kids?