Healthy Kids Tiffaney Isaacson

Don’t tell anyone, but I am old enough to remember things like cooking before microwaves, and being excited about really, really slow video games. I remember people smoking on planes and a time before the term “designated driver.”

In those days, people didn’t look closely at how alcohol affected ability to drive. Along came groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and between tighter laws and less social tolerance, arrests went up and crashes went down.

We’ve watched states crack down on texting while driving, and seen campaigns to educate and prevent needless text-and-drive deaths. Most people accept that using a handheld device like a cell phone while driving is dangerous, because we’re distracted and may not react quickly to danger.

But do we consider the same idea, when we aren’t behind the wheel?

A recent Wall Street Journal article notes that injuries to children are on the rise, and during the same period, so were smartphone sales. Non-fatal injuries to children rose 12 percent between 2007 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s “Pretty striking,” says Dr. Jeff Weiss of Phoenix Children’s Hospital, who also serves on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ working group for Injury, Violence, and Poison Prevention.

During the same time, the number of Americans 13 and older who own a smartphone grew from 9 million in 2007 to a staggering 114 million in 2012.

Can mobile devices really impair us the same way alcohol can?

I’ve seen people walking while texting, and bumping into things. Have you ever done that before? Ah, no, not me either. Clearly those people aren’t paying attention.

I’m addicted to my smartphone. When I’m reading a great article, I can’t put it down. And when I do, it’s hard not to pick it up again. Devices can impair us, but we like to think they don’t.

When a child is injured, often the adult doesn’t perceive how long a lapse in supervision was. According to the article, a woman in Canada was prosecuted for reckless endangerment after the toddler she was supervising nearly drowned. She was sending pictures by text beside the pool, and security camera footage showed she hadn’t looked at him for more than three minutes before he was rescued.

How long did she report she had taken her eyes off of him? Twenty seconds.

Injuries involving playground equipment increased by 17 percent recently, and those involving nursery equipment increased by 31 percent. Injuries involving swimming pools increased 36 percent, but had been increasing slightly over the prior five years.

According to studies (and my very own gray hair from raising two kids,) children are more likely to take risks when they aren’t watched carefully.

All this should cause us to stop and think. And set the tablet computer down at the playground.

Define times when your child needs supervision, and during those times, put the device away. Zip your purse shut, put the phone in your pocket and don’t pull it out again until you know it’s OK to do so.

Technology is such an exciting part of our world, but having healthy and safe kids is even more exciting. I look forward to watching my kids get their own gray hair while parenting, and hearing them tell their own kids how they remember life before Bluetooth, and cell phones that merely made phone calls.

• Tiffaney Isaacson is the injury prevention coordinator at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. Reach her at (602) 546-1712.

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