Last year I received an email from my Google calendar reminding me that it was my niece’s birthday. She was 7. I didn’t have my sister’s phone so I emailed my parents to get her contact information. My father replied: “You can call your nice directly. Here is her cell phone 555-xxxxxx’. My 7-year old niece has her own cell phone!
So I was intrigued when I encountered an article in the latest issue of Pediatrics examining the dangers of cell phone when crossing the street among pre-adolescent kids.
The study was conducted by a team at the University of Alabama. The authors examined Seventy-seven children (aged 10 to 11 years) as they experienced a virtual reality environment replicating the process of “crossing a busy street” (see picture below). The kids saw traffic moving in both directions and also heard naturalistic sounds presented through a stereo speaker system. The children were wearing aprons that contained a cell phone. The cell phones were modified so that only two buttons were visible/accessible, so that it mimics the type of cell phones that are marketed to children (not sure why they didn’t just use a real kid cell phone). The kids completed 12 trials. Randomly, some children received the phone call during the first trial while other children receive the call during the last trial. During the phone call the children were asked simple questions such as “what is your favorite television show?” and “What do you like to do for fun?”. The authors found that when using the cell phone kids were significantly more likely to be hit by a car, or have ‘a close call’. This finding was more pronounced among younger kids and those rated as oppositional. Two additional findings are noteworthy. The risk of cell phone use was seen only among the children who received the call during the 1st trial. Those who received the call during the 7th trial were not more likely to have accidents or close calls. In addition, previous use of cell phone was not associated with this risk. That is, those kids who used phone often were just as affected by the cell phone as those who never use cell phone. These two findings have a very important implication. It appears that the risk of cell phone use is mostly during new situation and this risk is present regardless of how much cell phone ‘practice’ a child gets. The conclusion, I will tell my 9-year-old niece to put the cell phone down when crossing the street, specially unfamiliar ones .
Stavrinos, D., Byington, K., & Schwebel, D. (2009). Effect of Cell Phone Distraction on Pediatric Pedestrian Injury Risk PEDIATRICS, 123 (2) DOI: 10.1542/peds.2008-1382
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