How Texting Could Increase Playground Perils

Child injuries may be more likely on the playground when parents are using electronic devices

(RxWiki News) Turning your attention to your smartphone may mean paying too little attention to your child's safety on the playground.

Two new studies found that children were more likely to take riskier chances on the playground when parents and other caregivers were texting, checking Facebook, surfing the Web or otherwise using their electronic gadgets.

Each year in the US, emergency rooms treat more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger for playground-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ruth L. Milanaik, MD, director of the Neonatal Neurodevelopmental Follow Up Program at Cohen Children's Medical Center of NY, in Lake Success, and colleagues authored the two studies.

"Although most risk taking behaviors did not result in injury, the possibilities of injury with these behaviors exist," Dr. Milanaik told dailyRx News. "We recommend trying to not use electronic devices while supervising children on the playground, and if you must use your device, consider using hands-free technology similar to those used while driving. It only takes a second for an accident to happen."

For both reports, Dr. Milanaik and colleagues observed 50 parent-child pairs who were randomly selected at seven public playgrounds in the New York City area. Children in the study appeared to be between the ages of 1.5 and 5 years old. Each pair was followed for 10 to 20 minutes. Observations were recorded every two minutes.

These researchers assessed the caregivers’ visual and auditory supervision and caregiver engagement and distraction. They also noted any risky behaviors the children displayed.

Dr. Milanaik and team logged a total of 371 observation periods for both studies. About three-quarters of these periods had at least one parental distraction. Of these distractions, almost a third were due to an electronic device.

Risky behaviors included walking up the slide, throwing sand, sliding headfirst, pushing other children and jumping off of moving swings, Dr. Milanaik and team noted. They observed that children whose caregivers were distracted were much more likely to do risky things.

Parents should talk to their young children about playground safety, Dr. Milanaik said.

“Remind children not to walk in front of other children on the swings,” Dr. Milanaik said. “Remind them not to run with food in their mouths; no sand throwing; no pushing. Also, remind them to use age-appropriate playground equipment correctly. These accommodations can help keep our little ones safer. Some minor accidents will happen despite the best supervision however, our goal should always be to do everything we possibly can for the safety of our children, so come, play and put your cell phones away.”

These studies were presented April 25 at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.

Dr. Milanaik and team disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 23, 2015