The old taunt "You can't chew gum and walk at the same
time" these days could be applied to texting (text messaging)
while walking - or while doing just about anything else! That's
because people are getting hurt - and hurting others - when texting
while in motion. And it's not just from sore, overworked thumbs
As back-to-school time nears - when kids may feel the need to
know about everything from who's wearing what to why that pop
quiz was so tough - the American College of Emergency Physicians
(ACEP) is warning students about the dangerous new trend of texting
at "inappropriate times."
The emergency physician group says kids and teens need to be
more cautious about when and where they text. Why? Because reports
of texting-related injuries are on the rise from doctors
nationwide. Take Chicago, for example, where people are being
treated in emergency rooms because they were texting and took an
unexpected spill, often enduring nasty bumps, bruises, and cuts on
Texting while walking can actually even be fatal. According to
the organization, a woman in San Francisco was killed when she
walked right into the path of a pickup truck. Of course, that kind
of case is rare. But major danger
exist, especially when kids try to multitask in situations that
really require their full attention (like driving and walking down
a busy street).
The 411 on Texting
When kids and teens text, they're thinking about what to
say, focusing on what their thumbs are doing, and reading
constantly incoming messages - rather than paying attention to what
they're doing or where they're going. And that
significantly ups their risk of getting hurt
injuring others, possibly even seriously.
And it doesn't matter if kids can practically text with
their eyes closed, as many can (and proudly). Even if it feels like
second nature, their brain is still focused on trying to do two
things at once - and one of them is bound to get less
Texting while driving, in particular, can turn tragic. In 2007,
a 17-year-old driver and four passengers were killed in New York
when her SUV crashed, head on, into a tractor-trailer. Though
police couldn't say for sure that it was the driver doing the
texting or talking, her phone records showed constant activity of
sending and receiving text messages and calls in the seconds and
minutes right before the crash. The friends had just graduated from
high school together less than a week earlier.
Another 17-year-old was suspected of texting while driving when
he hit and killed a bicyclist.
Driving while texting (or DWT) is even against the law in some
states (Minnesota, Washington, New Jersey, and now Louisiana). And
many more are trying to put the same kind of regulations into
A growing number of states don't allow drivers to
on their cell phones either. Although some laws apply to all
drivers, other states' legislation are specifically devoted to
young people, especially inexperienced drivers and those with
Still, a summer 2007 survey, conducted by AAA and
magazine, found that nearly half of the more than 1,000 16- and
17-year-olds interviewed said that they text during driving. And a
little more than half admitted to using a cell phone while behind
Another survey that same summer by Students Against Destructive
Decisions (SADD) showed that almost 40% of the nearly 1,000 guys
and girls with licenses polled considered driving while texting to
be "extremely" or "very" distracting.
What This Means to You
Love it or hate it, texting is a major part of life for many
people today, especially teens. They're often compelled to stay
connected and in touch from sunup to sundown.
As attached to their communication technologies as they might
be, you can help educate your kids about when it's appropriate
and, especially, safe to use them. Because not only can it be
dangerous for kids (or anyone) to partake in texting while in
motion, texting at all times can be downright disruptive and
To help teens keep their texting in perspective:
- Emphasize that there's a time and place for texting. When
teens are in a texting "conversation" and feel
compelled to read responses and answer right away that diverts
their attention and prevents them from focusing.
- Create and enforce family rules about texting, as well as
cell phone use overall. Put your foot down and prohibit talking
on the phone or texting while:
o running (in public or on a treadmill)
o riding a bike (or a horse!)
o inline skating
o walking in crowds, especially at night (they may be at greater
risk of theft or assault)
o driving any kind of vehicle (car, scooter, ATV, motorcycle)
o operating any type of equipment or machinery (like a lawnmower,
the fries machine at work, or the gear at the gym)
o in class, doing homework, or eating dinner with the family
- Tell them that if they need to text right away, to first pull
off the road, stop jogging, etc., to do it and then resume the
sport or activity. Even better, they should wait until
they're done to text.
- Encourage teens to keep both hands on the wheel when driving
and skip distractions like eating, reaching for things, switching
CDs, changing radio stations, fiddling with portable music
players, whooping it up with lots of friends, and applying
makeup, says SADD.
- Find out about your state's young-driver laws (visit The
Governors Highway Safety Association's website at
www.statehighwaysafety.org), like whether text and cell phone
restrictions exist and when teens are permitted on the road (many
states have curfews for teen drivers).
- Recommend ignoring calls or texts (or turning off their phone
altogether) while they're involved in anything that requires
their full attention, says ACEP.
- Tell kids to keep their cell phones in easily accessible
places like a specific pouch or pocket in their backpack or purse
(so they won't have to stop what they're doing to search
- Encourage kids to pick up the phone and talk instead of using
texting as their main source of communication. Messages can be
misunderstood (just like email). Sometimes it's better to
just have a real live conversation.
- Be a good role model - don't text or talk on your cell
when you should really be focusing your attention elsewhere (like
on chauffeuring your kids around town). While you're at it,
model other safe driver behaviors like following the speed limit
and rules of the road, nixing road rage, and always wearing your
Bottom line: Teach your kids the importance of texting in
moderation and to never put their thumbs into action when it places
them or other people at risk.
Kate M. Cronan, MD
Date reviewed: August 2008
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation/KidsHealth. All rights reserved.