Hi, I’m Ursula, and I’m a distracted mommy

This weekend, I dumped my smart phone.

Oh, I still have a cell phone, but it’s 2003-era. I can’t check email or Twitter or news sites – or OnTheCulture! – on my mobile device anymore.

I am a highly addictive person. This was a hard cut to make. As painful as it was, though, it was necessary on two fronts: financial and for well being.

First, it was a cost-cutting move, as our family is now getting very serious about sticking to a tight—*cough, choke*—budget. No more using the credit card. No more spontaneous Lightning McQueen or My Little Pony key chains at the store (sorry kids), and no more Peppermint Patties for this pregnant momma. That stuff adds up, lemmetellya.

But it turns out this change may also be healthier for my kids, according to Saturday’s WSJ.

Nonfatal injuries to children under age five rose 12% between 2007 and 2010, after falling for much of the prior decade, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, based on emergency-room records. The number of Americans 13 and older who own a smartphone such as an iPhone or BlackBerry has grown from almost 9 million in mid-2007, when Apple introduced its device, to 63 million at the end of 2010 and 114 million in July 2012, according to research firm comScore.

Child-safety experts say injury rates had been declining since at least the 1970s, thanks to everything from safer playgrounds to baby gates on staircases to fences around backyard swimming pools. “It was something we were always fairly proud of,” says Dr. Jeffrey Weiss, a pediatrician at Phoenix Children’s Hospital who serves on an American Academy of Pediatrics working group for injury, violence and poison prevention. “The injuries were going down and down and down.” The recent uptick, he says, is “pretty striking.”

… “It’s very well understood within the emergency-medicine community that utilizing devices—hand-held devices—while you are assigned to watch your kids—that resulting injuries could very well be because you are utilizing those tools,” says Dr. Wally Ghurabi, medical director of the emergency center at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital.

Adds Dr. Rahul Rastogi, an emergency-room physician at Kaiser Permanente in Oregon: “We think we’re multitasking and not really feeling like we are truly distracted. But in reality we are.”

Yes, we ARE. Not long ago, a teenager in my town struck and killed a jogger while allegedly checking a website or talking/texting with her mother (!) while she drove.

That was enough to get me to never touch the phone while in the car. Yet, despite this terrible (and well-publicized) tragedy, I’m consistently amazed at the number of parents in my town who still drive around with phones in their hands and kids in the back seat. (Ya think these kids might imitate their parents someday?)

Ira Hyman, a professor at Western Washington University who specializes in human memory and cognition, contends that mobile devices are more distracting for parents than radio, conversation and other outside-the-home diversions of yesteryear. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, he says, but when a person is using a device, “you can have something pass directly in front of you and your eyes may see it but it doesn’t really enter your awareness.”

I’m not a driver/texter, but was I one of those distracted mommies at the playground? You bet your boots.

No more. This article scared me straight.

My kids – ages 8, 6, and 4 – are, for the most part, pretty safe and predictable at the playground. No one is jumping off the tops of monkey bars or wandering into the woods. But I’m having a baby in December, so I need to break my habit, pronto. Babies do things like put cigarette butts in their mouths at the playground. They roll off beds and diaper tables. They stick their fingers in outlets. If I am lost in a Twitter feed for a few minutes – which might actually be a quarter of an hour without me realizing it, if I’m honest about it – something bad, real bad, can happen.

One afternoon at a swimming pool at a Foxwood Resort Casino hotel in Connecticut, Habibah Abdul-Hakeem was watching a friend’s 2-year-old son when another friend texted, asking how her day was going. She texted back that she would send him a photo of herself.

The child sat down on a step in the pool, slipped and began sinking, according to an April 2011 sworn statement by the responding police officer, who said he reconstructed the episode based on security-camera footage and Ms. Abdul-Hakeem’s account to police. There was no lifeguard. The boy flailed for about a minute, drifting toward the deep end, then sank. Ms. Abdul-Hakeem, standing beside the pool, was looking at a photo on her smartphone, the police officer said.

About three minutes after she began fiddling with the phone, she dropped it. Only then did she notice the young boy underwater, the officer said. She plunged in and pulled him out. Her calls for help brought a pool attendant who resuscitated the child, who recovered fully.

Ms. Abdul-Hakeem told an emergency technician that she had taken her eyes off the boy for about 20 seconds, according to the police statement. The security-camera footage suggested she didn’t look at him for more than three minutes, according to the officer.

The Connecticut state police charged Ms. Abdul-Hakeem, then 35, with reckless endangerment in the second degree and risk of injury to a minor. A clerk in Connecticut state court said that the case is pending and the records are sealed. Ms Abdul-Hakeem didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Still think that reply can’t wait?

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