Checking Your Cell Phone At The Playground Apparently Makes You A Neglectful Parent Now

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165511303Free range parents have been making the argument for a long time now that we’ve gone overboard with our societal ideas of how much children need to be protected. Even though ‘stranger danger’ is at an all-time low, we still expect something like constant supervision from parents while their kids walk outside or run around on the playground. And now, the next step in that expectation for constant oversight might be the demand that parents on the playground put away their cell phones.

A press release from the American Academy of Pediatrics, starkly titled “Cell Phones Take Parents’ Attention Away From Kids On Playgrounds”, suggests that technology-addicted parents might be to blame for the 200,000 playground injuries that send children to the emergency department every year. Thanks a lot, parents! Good job needing to ‘send a work email’ or ‘text a picture of the kids playing to Grandma and Grandpa’, you thoughtless jerks!

The release summarizes two studies of playground behavior and parental distraction, where researchers observed caregivers and children across seven different playgrounds in New York. It opens with this dire statement:

Parents who take their kids to the playground may be tempted to pull out their cell phone to send a quick text or check Facebook. It may be more prudent, however, to stay focused on their child to ensure he or she plays safely.

Shots fired! The summary goes on to note that children whose caregivers were distracted were more likely to engage in risky behaviors on the playground, and that they were more like to experience a minor injury. Of course, ‘more likely to be injured’ here means that out of the five injuries the researchers observed, three happened to kids with distracted caregivers and two happened to kids under constant supervision, so this is not a very strong indictment against the evils of technology.

The most interesting thing in the study, though, is this little statistic buried well under that anti-cell phone title and opening: the most common distraction for parents wasn’t technology at all, but the audacious act of talking to other people on the playground. Cell phones amounted to only about 30% of distractions, while almost 40% were related to non-technological attention-grabbers like food, books, or digging around in a purse for car keys. But then, “Parents who are elbow-deep in the diaper bag are bad caregivers” doesn’t have quite the same please please please renew our study funding ring to it as “Parents who check Facebook are bad caregivers”.

Besides the fact that cell phones aren’t even the most common attention thief on the playground, it’s worth wondering whether the risk-taking behaviors of these kids have deeper roots than ‘mom’s on her cell phone, I’m going to go down the slide head-first’. Parents who don’t feel the need to give their kids the constant eagle-eye on the playground may have different attitudes toward this kind of risky business; they may be willing to let their kids take a little spill off the swings or scrape their knees, rather than helicoptering around trying to eliminate all possibility of minor injury–as well as of the opportunity to learn by experience.

It’s already annoying to be told that those of us who occasionally bust out a phone while watching the kids aren’t loving enough parents because we’re not just raptly absorbed in the mere act of watching our kids play all day, every day. But now, it means we’re neglectful parents too? Someone just please tell me that taking my phone out to check Facebook when my kids play on the playground someday soon isn’t going to have a stranger dialing up CPS to intervene.

(Image: Stacey Newman / iStock / Getty)