Think in advance what could happen

Smartphone addiction alone has reduced adult attention to children and increased the risk of preventable accidents, which kill, on average, 120 Israeli youngsters every year.

A girl takes photos on a smartphone (photo credit: REUTERS)
A girl takes photos on a smartphone
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Human beings now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, “thanks” to smartphones, according to a study recently commissioned by Microsoft that used electroencephalograms to test their brains. The amount of time a person can one can spend on a task without becoming distracted dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight today, leaving goldfish steady at nine seconds of mental concentration.
This drop, according to experts, coincided with the explosion in the use of smartphones, which itself occurred at the same time as a significant rise in the rate of preventable children’s accidents and fatalities in the US.
The fact that individuals – including parents and childminders – are enslaved by their smartphones was taken for granted at the conference held earlier this month in the Knesset auditorium to mark the 20th anniversary of Beterem, the Israel Center for Child Safety and Health. In fact, many of the hundreds of people who filled the auditorium could be seen fiddling every few minutes with their silent-but-vibrating cellphones during the five hours of discussions.
The upside of constant smartphone use, that humans are better able to multitask, has unfortunately not reduced the toll of children’s accidents. Nearly 120 Israeli children die annually from fires, burns, drowning, poisoning, falling, being run over or otherwise harmed by vehicles, electrocution, being left in hot cars, choking on foreign objects and other accidents in or near the home.
Channel 2 journalist Dror Globerman argued that new parents don’t know how to raise children and protect them from accidents in a digital environment. “Smartphones get top priority among adults when the choice is chocolate, coffee, TV and even sex,” he said. “They have been with us for only 15 years or so, but we are addicted. It is a synergy between technology and human nature to hear gossip and the latest news.
Companies that supply content compete every minute for our attention and make money when we respond by pressing a button...
We don’t even feel time pass, so how can we see that our children are in danger?” One million children around the world – and four whole school classes of Israeli youngsters – are annually wiped out by preventable accidents. An average of 520 children are taken to hospital emergency rooms here every day – or 190,000 a year – for the treatment of such injuries. Journalist Gal Gabbai, who was master of ceremonies of the conference, said outright but without giving details that she herself was a child accident victim 44 years ago, when the fingers of her right hand were destroyed.
Beterem was established in 1995 by pediatricians Prof. Yehuda Danon and Dr. Michal Hemmo-Lotem of Petah Tikva’s Schneider Children’s Medical Center who treated a little girl who accidentally drank caustic soda left around in her home and suffered a burnt esophagus. The child survived, but the doctors were frustrated by the steady and tragic steam of deaths and injuries of innocent children in accidents that could have been avoided. Today, the organization is headed by Orly Silbinger, who said it has directly saved the lives of 625 children and many more indirectly over the years.
BETEREM is one of 400 member organizations in 25 different countries of Safe Kids Worldwide, which was originally founded as a US organization in Washington, DC in 1988 to fight preventable accidents involving children. It eventually expanded to every continent and has been headed for the past four years by Kate Carr, who made her second visit to Israel as a guest speaker at the anniversary event. A Temple University graduate in economics and management, she was a business adviser to then-US president Bill Clinton.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post before the Knesset conference, Carr said that Safe Kids is “built on partnerships to reduce child injury. When we work together with committed partners, we are stronger and get better outcomes. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Beterem; its reach goes around the world.”
One Israeli-devised program in which professionals and volunteers teach parents about accident prevention when they are with their injured children in the hospital has been copied in numerous countries including China, Germany, Austria, Australia and New Zealand.
Safe Kids’ founding US organization is funded largely by foundations and corporate donors and receives only a small number of government grants. Unlike Israel, where radio and TV stations are not required to provide free air time for public service ads, US stations are, but they decide which public organizations’ messages are broadcast.
Carr, the mother of three grown children aged 19 to 35, confessed that she has herself taken them to hospital emergency rooms when they were younger.
“I made mistakes about their safety myself. When my daughter was seven years old, she went sledding in the snow and ran into a tree; the result was a serious concussion. She also had concussions when playing volleyball, torn ligaments and other accidents.”
Today, she said, there are sensors on cars, bike helmets, car seats and other paraphernalia, but toddlers can still drown in a pail containing two centimeters of water, and in many cases car seats are installed improperly.
“We did a survey of how many American parents leave their young children alone in the bathtub, and 40 percent admitted to doing so, some even for five minutes.
Adults must always think about what dangerous things could happen and then prevent them.”
At the beach or a swimming pool, you have to be within arm’s reach of a child. Just as when people go out to drink alcohol and one has to be designated as a non-drinking driver, “you have to designate a ‘water watcher’ wearing a special card in the pocket who spends an allotted amount of time keeping an eye on the kids,” Carr said.
Button batteries used in electronic devices are routinely swallowed or inhaled by young children, posing acute dangers when they leak or get stuck. The plastic, colorful packets of washing machine liquid have proven very dangerous. Young children open them and can be poisoned by drinking the contents.
“We have been working with a major manufacturer, Proctor & Gamble, on making these packets safer and plastering warnings on the packages so parents pay attention.
They also sponsored an awareness campaign in the media.”
Each year, an average of 50 US children are “broiled” to death when left in hot vehicles, said Carr, aware that these totally preventable deaths continue to occur in Israel.
Electric bicycles are not as popular in the US as in Israel, she said, but riders have to wear helmets and observe regulations.
“My son moved from Manhattan to Brooklyn and would ride his bike across the Williamsburg Bridge. One day, he saw rider go over his handlebars, and the sound of his head hitting the pavement was horrible. He decided then and there that he wouldn’t ride a bike without a helmet. But we in the US have found that scaring people in public service ads with blood and horror doesn’t deter dangerous behavior; instead, we explain the consequences. Maybe in Israel, scare tactics are more effective.”
Fires are more common in the US, where many single-family homes are made of wood rather than iron bars and concrete.
Thus smoke detectors are widespread, and even sprinklers are installed in a growing number of new homes.
“We recommend that families practice escaping from fires,” Carr said.
Asked why the UN’s children’s organization UNICEF has not taken up child accident prevention, Carr said that it is more disease oriented, a cause significantly adopted by Bill and Melinda Gates, who have donated large sums to wipe out everything from malaria and tuberculosis to polio. As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife have just had their first baby, they would be a natural to finance the prevention of child accidents, I speculated. It has already been suggested to them by Safe Kids, Carr responded, but so far without success.
WHEN MK Ya’acov Litzman was deputy health minister in the previous government, he pushed through a pilot program to protect children from accidental death and injury. Now, Kulanu MK Dr. Yifat Shasha- Biton, who heads the Knesset Children’s Rights Committee and sponsored the conference, said she would work hard to pass a National Program for the Prevention of Children’s Accidents involving 15 ministries.
The MK confided that her own young niece suffered a severe, third-degree burn when a waitress at a restaurant where the family went to celebrate a birthday accidentally spilled hot water, leaving here with scars even today.
Litzman, who appeared at Beterem’s 20th anniversary conference, said he supports the comprehensive program.
“Saving one child means you save a whole generation of him and his descendants. If it’s said that if you save one life, you save a whole world, then it is even more so for a young child,” Litzman told the audience.
Finance Ministry director-general Shai Babad added that his ministry regarded the challenge as very important and would “invest significant funds” in such a project.
Beterem chairman Ofer Ne’eman said he would never forget a five-year-old boy named Rani who was accidentally scalded with hot water at home and disfigured with scars. He was so embarrassed that he doesn’t want to go to kindergarten, he said.
“But there are hundreds of other scarred children with trauma they can’t forget.
Every three days, another child dies in an accident.”
It’s a national problem, he added. An Arab child is three times more likely to die of a home accident than a Jewish child.
From mid-September until now, 32 people have been murdered in terrorist attacks, but during the exact same time, 46 children died in preventable accidents, Ne’eman said.
THE CONFERENCE devoted considerable time to Jerusalemites Shimon and Michal Gross discussing their own horrendous experience two years ago, with poisoning of their four young children when licensed exterminator used odorless chemicals permitted only for agricultural use in their apartment. The case is being dealt with in the courts.
The two daughters, Avigail and Yael, died despite valiant efforts at Shaare Zedek Medical Center to save them. The two boys were saved by Dr. Sarit Shahrur-Karni, head of pediatric intensive care, and her colleagues, who managed to stabilize them enough for them to be attached to an ECMO heart-lung machine and by Dr. Ephrat Barron Har-Lev and her team at Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petah Tikva.
Since then, Michal Gross had a healthy baby son delivered at Shaare Zedek’s obstetrics department even though the staff and premises reminded them constantly of the children they lost.
“Every accident case involves a name, siblings and parents,” said Shimon. “We want to be a voice not just as parents of two girls who were lost but also to thousands of children who have been harmed by accidents over the years.”
One of the most difficult moments, recalled Shimon, was when they were rushed with Avigail’s lifeless body to the hospital, and their second daughter walked to the ambulance, asking for her shoes and to drink something. Upon reaching the emergency room, she lost consciousness too. Shahrur-Karni suddenly realized that it wasn’t one child gone but more, with a single cause, but it took time to find out which chemical was to blame. When the boys were taken to the operating room, the doctors avoided answering the parent’s questions about their second daughter, who could not be resuscitated either. Finally they were told that Yael had died too.
Purchasing more ECMO machines to save children in such a horrible situation would not be enough, said Bar-Lev. “The ECMO, which keeps the heart pumping and lungs breathing, is like a bridge for a week or 10 days. Either we can fix them or they fix themselves. It can’t be done unless the hospital has a highly skilled team to use it.”
But even when all this is available, it often doesn’t save the patient. In this case, the cooperation among many people in Schneider and outside with other hospitals in a very short time was unique and successful, she said.
SHASHA-BITON, who earned her doctorate in education at the age of 29, concluded: “Parents have less authority than a few years ago, but they need more responsibility. They are a very important factor in protecting children of all ages, in parks, at parties and on the Internet. They don’t always have to be there for older children, but they have to teach how to behave and be role models for them. We have responsibility for children wherever they are, even in a virtual world.
Be involved in your children’s lives,” she concluded.