This article had me wondering if physical injury is the only negative outcome for kids with parents who are overly attached to their iPhones. It was in yesterday’s New York Times, and was written by Dean Karlan….

The iPhone may cause broken bones and concussions. Yes, I’m leaving out a few in-between steps here.

So let me start over: Craig Palsson, a graduate student in the Yale economics department, argues in a new paper that the expansion of the 3G cellphone network led to more widespread adoption of the iPhone, which led to parents who discovered new apps and continual email on their cellphone: which led to parents who paid attention to their new toys at playgrounds and not necessarily to their small children; which led to 10% more accidents for those children from 2005 to 2012, including broken bones and concussions.

The paper assembled data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, run by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The government does not collect any information from the phone, but instead relies on a sample of hospital emergency room visits involving consumer products.

The overall finding does not hold for children who are 6 and up. Presumably these are the children who require less monitoring. Or maybe older children simply ignore constant monitoring at the playground.

A further, and stronger test would focus on playgrounds: The result holds only for neighborhood playground accidents, not schoolyard playground ones. The assumption is that teachers are more closely watching the children and less susceptible to the lure of the screen. If true, this reinforces the “attention” story, since presumably playground duty is not an activity well suited to multitasking.

I’m a believer in free range parenting. Part of that philosophy is that taking some lumps helps a child grow up. Learn to take care of yourself, and you’ll be strong and independent, or so the thinking goes.

I wouldn’t want to see the lumps get too big, of course. But there may be no better way to learn to be responsible than to have actual responsibility. The paper definitely will make me think twice, though, if I’m taking care of a friend’s child at a playground (fortunately my children are older).

Car and pedestrian accidents are also ripe for a similar analysis. What other outcomes are out there to examine with this empirical strategy?
The Upshot

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