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Kids and Their Phones: A Dangerous Mix

Children who talk on the phone while crossing the street are at risk for injury.

Ready access to the internet and the ability to forward texts and photos leave youngsters vulnerable to cyber-bullies and predators. That we know. But what other hidden dangers might cell phones pose?

Talking on wireless devices while crossing the street puts anyone—especially children—at risk of serious injury in a pedestrian accident, says a study published recently in Pediatrics.

In a ground-breaking experiment researchers at The University of Alabama Birmingham had 77 ten and eleven year olds engage in 6 trial street crossings in a virtual environment. Results were clear: when cell phones were added to the mix even experienced, attentive children took 20% longer to begin crossing, were 20% less likely to look both ways, and were 43% more likely to come in close contact with virtual vehicles.

What accounts for the increase in danger in the experimental scenario? One explanation is the complex and cognitively demanding nature of street crossing. To be safe, walkers must be on their cerebral toes at all times. Distractions posed by cell phone use put children at increased risk of vehicular injury and even death, researchers concluded.

Though subjects of the Alabama study did not send electronic messages during their simulated crossings, it is assumed that the dangers of walking and talking generalize to texting and other wireless communications. So what should parents take away from all of this? Children and teens should be instructed never to use cell phones while crossing the street. Multi-tasking may look appealing but its dangers are very real.

Stephanie Newman, PhD, is the author of Mad Men on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of the Men and Women of the hit TV show, which can be purchased from Barnes & Noble, Indie Bound, and Amazon.

Stavrinos, D., Byington, K. and Schwebel, D. Effect of Cell Phone Distraction on Pediatric Pedestrian Injury Risk Pediatrics 2009; 123 (2), 179-185;

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