Forcing Parents to Stop Texting & Emailing at the Playground Won't Help Kids

Is high-tech gadgetry diminishing the ability of adults to give proper supervision to very young children? According to this Wall Street Journal article, the answer is "probably, so for Christ's sake put your phone down, you neglectful monster."

Okay, so that's not exactly what it says. The theory is this: the near-ubiquity of hand-held electronic devices are one possible reason why injury rates for young kids have been on the rise lately -- as in, a 12 percent increase between 2007 and 2010. As a pediatrician who's part of the American Academy of Pediatrics working group for injury, violence, and poison prevention puts it, "The injuries were going down and down and down. (The recent uptick) is pretty striking."

The article raises some truly disturbing connections between "device distraction" and childhood injuries or even deaths -- but does this mean I'm going to ban my cellphone from the playground? Yeah, probably not.

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It's difficult to establish causality where there appears to be an association. While the use of electric devices is on the rise along with kid injuries, no formal research has looked at whether one causes the other.

Still, I believe it. Phones and other handheld electronics can be a huge distraction, and studies do show that people tend to underestimate just how much of our attention is pulled away when we're "multitasking."

The article goes on to list a number of incredibly tragic accidents that happened when a parent or caregiver was engrossed with their phone, including a drowning that was found to be a "direct result" of inadequate supervision. The Department of Children and Families report noted, "Mother twittering at the time the child passed."

I'm not surprised at all to hear that some injuries may happen as the result of a distracted-by-technology parent. But as upsetting as some of the anecdotes are, I doubt I'll ban my phone from any of my child-supervising activities. Maybe because my kids are a little older, and don't require me to watch their every move. Or maybe because I think there's a line between checking out completely, and hovering near a kid out of pure paranoia.

I often use my phone at the playground. I mean, there I am, sitting on a bench within several yards of my kids -- I don't feel bad about pulling out my phone and dicking around for a bit to pass the time. I wouldn't do that if they were, say, playing in a pool and I was the only parent on duty. Or if they were in a huge play area where I couldn't see them at all times. But I usually feel pretty confident in my ability to glance at my phone, glance at my kids, and so on.

Of course, that's exactly what most people think, and it may be that it's easy to overestimate our ability to focus on more than one subject at a time. Still, I wonder why we're so quick to vilify electronics over, for instance, books? I'm far more likely to get engrossed in a book than a tweet, but I don't think I've ever heard any stories about The Awful Parent Who Was Reading a Paperback at the Playground Oh My God.

Personally, I think it's all about common sense and balance. Don't get embroiled in a text conversation if you're monitoring an 18-month-old near a body of water. Similarly, don't stare worried holes in the back of your first-grader as he enjoys himself on a swingset. We shouldn't be disengaged from our kids when they need us -- but at the same time, we can't prevent every injury, no matter how many distractions we eliminate.

Do you think parents should avoid using electronic devices when they're on kid duty?


Image via henryinamsterdam/Flickr

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