Computer-related injuries on the rise in children? Sure, I thought, their thumbs get sore from playing Grand Theft Auto for hours on end. But I was wrong; we’re talking real injuries here, the kinds that land kids in the emergency room. Computer-related injuries serious enough to send someone to the emergency room have increased 732 percent from 1994 to 2006, even though home computer ownership rose less than half that. The data are gleaned from a federal database of 100 emergency rooms around the country. Children under age 5 were most likely to be hurt, and the injuries were caused by tripping over cables or equipment, being hit on the head by a falling computer monitor, or getting caught on equipment. Deep cuts, bumps, and bruises are the most common injuries.
Monitors are the most likely culprits, causing 37 percent of all computer injuries in 2003, according to researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, who reported in the July American Journal of Preventive Medicine. (That number has been dropping, thanks to the growing popularity of flat-screen LCD monitors, which are much lighter and less likely to cause harm than the hulking cathode-ray-tube monitors of computers past.)
Computer injuries are hardly epidemic; currently, about 9,300 people a year are injured by computers. But since most parents probably never think of the home computer as a potentially dangerous device, it’s worth thinking about how to reduce the risk, particularly to children younger than 10, who are the most likely to suffer a head injury. Here’s how to make home computers safer, from the Center for Injury Research and Policy and other sources:
- Put the computer against a wall and away from walkways.
- Push the computer well back on the desk, so it’s less likely to topple.
- Anchor cables and cords to the back of the desk, or use cable covers, available at consumer electronics stores.
- Keep the computer out of play areas.
- Install safety covers on unused electrical outlets.
- Anchor desks and bookcases to the wall, then attach computer components to the desk or wall. Baby-proofing tethers or cable ties work well for this. Injuries to children from falling furniture are on the rise, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, so tethering heavy furniture is a good idea even without the computer.
Head injuries can be hard to spot in children, so it’s important to ask your child follow-up questions after a bop on the head. After actress Natasha Richardson died last March, I asked Marlena Wald, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Injury Center, what parents can do. Her answer: If the child says he or she doesn’t feel right, get to the doctor. Here’s more from my interview with Wald on diagnosing children’s head injuries.
I just pushed my LCD monitor to the back of the desk. I feel safer now!