People in the U.S. across all age groups check their phones 46 times per day, according to Deloitte. One in three people check their phone within fifteen minutes of waking. It seems we are never without our cell phone.
While we often associate the risks of cell phone use with driving (especially among teens and young adults), new research by the Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT), a British charity that works to prevent children’s accidents, found that phone-obsessed parents are putting their kids in danger of serious accidents or a near miss. According to a survey, roughly 7 out of 10 parents in the U.K. admit that they get distracted from parenting by their cell phones. Researchers suggest that this may explain why approximately one in four parents say their child had an accident or near miss – stepped into traffic, grabbed a hot drink, fell off a swing, etc. — while they were using their cell phone. The study also found that such behavior was rubbing off on kids. One in six suffered an accident or near miss – stepping into the street, walking into a parked car, etc. due to their own cell phone distractions.
Catherine Steiner Adair, a clinical psychologist and Harvard researcher, had similar findings. “We’ve seen about a 22 percent spike in preventable accidents with young children and caretakers using their digital devices,” Steiner Adair said. “Certain situations are simply too dangerous for cell phone use, such as when children are climbing a jungle gym or a toddler or infant is in a bath. Your reaction time and attention is not the same when you’re texting or talking on a cell phone.”
Cell phone distractions go beyond the physical risks; research also shows that the psychological impact to kids is just as great. The U.K. survey found that more than half of children believe that their parents spend as much time (or more) with their devices than interacting with them. Thirty-two percent said they feel unimportant when their parents are distracted by a phone. In describing how they felt, kids use the words such as angry, sad, frustrating, and lonely over and over.
In a study by Boston Medical Center, researchers observed 55 groups of parents and children at various fast-food restaurants, and observed that 40 of the parents immediately pulled out mobile devices upon arrival, then paid attention to those devices for nearly the whole meal. Unsurprisingly, the children of those parents acted out more, in an attempt to get attention, and the parents responded more harshly to the behavior then they may have otherwise.
There is little doubt that technology is affecting family relationships on a day-to-day basis. With kids picking up mobile devices at an increasingly younger age, it is important to set examples early on to offset this growing divide. It doesn’t mean giving up your mobile devices; it means setting limits for yourself – and your kids. More connection – the real kind – means that families can build and maintain strong relationships. It is never too late to send good messages to our kids.
Mark Bello is the CEO and General Counsel of Lawsuit Financial Corporation, a pro-justice lawsuit funding company.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.