Watch out! There’s a Computer on the Loose!

By Sarah Klein

Forget about online predators, identity theft, and cyber stalking. There’s a bigger digital danger to your kids out there – the computer itself!

I know it sounds crazy, but a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found over 78,000 cases of computer-related accidents requiring emergency room treatment from 1994 through 2006. Until now, studies of computer-related injuries have focused on the long-term effects of computer use, like carpal tunnel syndrome, or decline in vision. But acute injuries, often caused by falling hardware or tripping, have increased as well. During the 13-year study period, these injuries increased by 732 percent, while computer ownership “only” increased by 309 percent.

Very young (under 5) and older people (60 and over) were found to be the most common victims, often from tripping and falling over exposed equipment or cables. Other accident victims were most likely to get injured by hitting or getting caught on computer equipment. Many of the injuries were to the hands and feet, but children under 10 most often suffered head injuries.

Researchers are still unclear as to why the rate of injuries increased so much faster than computer ownership, although the trend towards hooking-up computers to multiple screens and other devices surely has something to do with it. Whatever the cause, many of these accidents can be prevented by taking a few precautionary measures:

  • Make sure all cords and cables are organized and tucked away. Cable organizers can be purchased from most electronic or hardware stores.
  • Consider switching to an LCD monitor. The more modern and popular flat screens take up less space and are easier to lift – the smaller and lighter design means it won’t be as harmful to a small child should it fall. (After LCD monitors became popular in 2003, and households were replacing their older, bulkier screens, the amount of computer-related injuries decreased slightly through 2006.)
  • Set up a sturdy, child-sized chair at the computer desk. Computer desks and chairs that are too big for young children invite spills and falls.
  • Keep all parts of the computer away from the edges of the desk, out of a child’s reach.
  • And of course, if you haven’t already, take time to explain to children that the computer desk – and the space around it – is not a playground!

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