When caregivers were observed at playgrounds, cellphones were involved in about 30 percent of distractions, investigators reported in two presentations at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in San Diego on Saturday.
“Talking to other people was the biggest distraction,” Dr. Ruth Milanaik, a senior author of one of the reports. “Cellphones were only a fraction behind.”
Milanaik directs the neonatal neurodevelopment follow-up program at the North Shore-LIJ Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Lake Success, New York.
“It only takes one second for a child to get hurt,” she told Reuters Health. “If you’re distracted by your cellphone, answering a text or going through your email, then your eyes are not on the children.”
She said the idea for the research came from previous studies that found parents rely on smart phones and tablets to occupy their children.
For the new study, researchers worked in teams of two to observe 50 caregivers and their young children at seven New York playgrounds.
Each caregiver was monitored for 10 to 20 minutes. The researchers noted the caregivers’ activities every two minutes. At the end, the researchers had 371 observations.
Overall, caregivers were distracted during 74 percent of the two-minute observations. About a third of those times were spent talking with other people. Thirty percent of those times were spent talking on a phone, and the rest of the time was spent doing other things like eating or reading.
In a second study, some of the same researchers found that children were more likely to engage in dangerous behavior when caregivers were distracted.
“None of the kids in our study were hurt,” Milanaik said. “So really all of the parents were doing a fine job, but the question is can we do a better job.”
“We’re not saying no cellphones on the playground, but maybe use your hands free so your eyes can remain on your child at all times,” she said.
“For us, good research just proves something that you already know and points people in the right direction,” Milanaik said. “I think people know they’re distracted by their cellphones.”