Lifeguards in Germany link child drownings to smartphone-distracted parents

child drownings in germany linked to smartphone distracted parents
Ina Fassbender/Getty Images

Pedestrians buried in their smartphones have on more than one occasion ended up walking straight into a large body of water, while drivers distracted by their handsets have been known to cause crashes.

Now, in Germany, lifeguards are suggesting parents are putting their children’s lives at risk by spending too much time staring at their phones instead of keeping an eye on their offspring as they take a summer dip.

Peter Harzheim of the German Federation of Swimming Pool Supervisors said that in a number of cases, parents have been so obsessed with their smartphones that they’ve failed to notice their child struggling in the water, the Guardian reported.

“We’re experiencing on a daily basis that people treat swimming pools like a kindergarten and simply don’t pay attention,” Harzheim said. He added that in days gone by, parents tended to spend more time in the water playing with their children, but said that the rise of the smartphone has changed all that.

“Increasing numbers of parents are fixated by their smartphones and are not looking left or right, let alone paying attention to their children,” Harzheim said, describing it as “sad” that modern-day parents “behave so neglectfully.”

“Put your smartphone away”

Achim Wiese of the German Lifeguard Association, which represents around 40,000 lifeguards for beaches and lakes around the country, added to calls for parents to put their mobile devices to one side while at the beach or down by the lake.

“Too few parents and grandparents are heeding the advice: when your children and grandchildren are in the water, put your smartphone away,” Wiese said.

While it may well be the case that smartphone distraction has caused some parents’ attention to drift away from the water where their children are swimming, there are no official statistics on the extent of the problem. Indeed, some will suggest that it’s not an issue that’s arrived with smartphones, as an engrossing book or chat with a partner could also cause a parent’s attention to momentarily wander.

The Guardian also points out in its report that the German lifeguard organizations have also blamed funding cuts for pools and lessons that have led to fewer children learning to swim, or swim with any great skill.

For its part, the U.S. Lifesaving Association offers a top 10 list for how to stay safe in the water. Besides the obvious “learn to swim,” the tips include swimming in places where there’s lifeguard supervision, swimming with a friend, and obeying safety signs and posters related to water conditions. It has yet to add any advice encouraging parents to put their smartphones down.

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