January 8, 2013
That’s the sound I heard coming from the adjacent lane in heavy traffic in Columbus recently. A young mother with a car filled with several little ones barely got her vehicle stopped in time as the light changed to red. To protect her children, she extended her arm toward the back seat when I spied the real culprit, the cellphone in her hand.
Go right ahead and tell someone like that mom that they are being a negligent parent and that their cellphone behavior is endangering their kids. I’ll bet your well-intentioned advice wouldn’t be very well-received.
You might be thinking that this column is about distracted driving and the dangers that it presents, but it’s not. After all, experts have proved that “using a smartphone while driving or crossing a street increases the risk of accident.” This statement was in a September Wall Street Journal feature titled, “The Perils of Texting While Parenting.”
Instead, this WSJ article written by Ben Worthen was about how cellphone behavior intertwined with everyday parenting can put children at risk for injury. For example, young children have drowned, broken arms, and walked into harm’s way while their parents or caretakers have been busy tweeting, reading texts, or taking photos.
Worthen cites statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that report nonfatal injuries to children under age 5 rose 12 percent between 2007 and 2010. Could this be a direct correlation to the increase in smartphone owners, which has grown from about 9 million in 2007 to 114 million in 2012?
In conjunction, studies show that sometimes a parent will look at their cellphone for what they think is a matter of seconds, when in reality it turns out to be minutes, causing them to be preoccupied putting especially small children at risk for physical injuries.
There’s another negative side-effect that seems to be rapidly becoming part of our society. There are parents so busy talking or texting that they no longer have time to engage with or listen to their children.
To confirm this, just head out to any busy grocery store and you will find a few parents gabbing on the phone oblivious to anything their little one is saying. Of course, the conversation of a 3-year-old isn’t very stimulating, but how are they going to learn if we are too busy to interact?
A year ago, I first read about extreme distracted parenting in a Dear Abby column on Dec. 5, 2011, titled, “Mom with texting addiction needs a slap in her Facebook.” A frantic grandmother had written to syndicated columnist, Abigail Van Buren, complaining that her divorced daughter was so addicted to her cellphone, Facebook and texting, that she ignored her baby.
Maybe we aren’t addicted, but technology can still drive our daily lives. Yet, youthful folks might be at greater risk, because additional evidence suggests that young people’s personal relationships are being eroded by their cellphones.
“The claims come after research revealed that young adults — in addition to sending over 100 texts — check their mobile up to 60 times a day.” This quotation from the article, “Mobile Madness” by Leo Morris for the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Sentinel who also writes, “Experts behind a new study have now said compulsively checking a mobile phone is an addiction similar to compulsive spending or credit card misuse.”
Although, Morris seems to think the young folks will probably grow out of it.
I wish I could agree with Morris’ optimistic outlook, but still I don’t believe that we should go back to the dark ages of pre-cellular communication. Cellphones help to keep our children safe by keeping us all connected, and instantly place vital information at our fingertips.
Although we need to try to keep our hands off them for awhile, at least long enough to engage with our children in real time. After all, most parents love their children in the most self-sacrificing of ways, and would be in despair if anything happened to them as a result of their negligence.
As for the teen who can’t put his or her own phone down, designate hours that are cellphone free. Help them get through that socially awkward time of adolescence by having some open-ended conversations about appropriate cellphone etiquette, and genuine connectedness.
After all, cellphones are definitely here to stay, but I guarantee you before you know it, your children will be grown and gone. The days of parenting are precious and brief, so try to savor the moments.