troubling news

Study: 91% Of Elementary School Kids Can't Reliably Call 911

Two new studies show that many kids under 12 either don't have access to an phone or don't know how to make an emergency call. Or both.

Originally Published: 
A girl dialing a phone in distress. New information shows that most kids don't know how to dial 911 ...
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Chances are that you’ve told your kids to call 911 if there’s an emergency. But a new study shows that kids under the age of 12 are woefully unprepared for the task — if they even have access to a phone to begin with.

This new information is based on two reports: One that shows that 91% of elementary school kids don’t know how to recognize an emergency and call 911 successfully, and one that shows that 27.7 million kids under 12 in the United States don’t have regular and reliable access to a phone, especially during the school day.

In the first study, which was published last year in the medical journal Pediatrics, researchers found that out of 50 children from an elementary school, only a small minority could recognize a simulated emergency, dial 911, and report the emergency to an operator.

This is despite the fact that about 50% of their parents said they had spoken to their kids about how to call 911 and 34% of their parents said they had showed their children how to dial 911.

All in all, none of the kindergarteners or first graders completed the simulation, while only 16 percent of second and third graders did.

Researchers believe that the issue is multi-pronged: School lessons about 911 often involve landlines instead of smart phones even though 80 percent of calls are now made on smartphones and many households no longer have a landline at all. At the same time, kids are told how to call 911, but never practice with their parents or educators. Many lesson don’t cover what to say once you’re on the phone.

And many kids under the age of 12 do not have smart phones (there are good reasons for this, too) and don’t have a reliable way to access help, especially when they are away from their parents. This issue was brought to light most recently during the Uvalde school shooting, when the majority of kids were too young to have a smart phone. Many kids couldn’t call for help, and many parents couldn’t get in touch with their kids during the long hour when the shooter was in the building.

"According to a new report released by COSMO Technologies, which specializes in smart watches for kids, an estimated 26.6 million kids under 12 are unable to successfully notify 911 in an emergency. A nationwide survey by Common Sense Media also found that 60% of kids ages 8-11 don't own a smartphone."

COSMO Technologies

That means even if a kid knows how to call 911, they might not get the chance. This is alarming since accidents are the leading cause of death in kids and over 300,000 kids in the U.S. have been exposed to gun violence in schools.

"When it comes to child safety and 911, the key is the right combination of both training and access,” Russell York, Founder & CEO of COSMO Technologies, tells Scary Mommy. “Parents should start early by talking with kids about how to identify an emergency, how to call for help, and what to say. When it comes to access, parents can make sure kids understand how to use a parent's phone in an emergency, or better yet, help them learn with a training wheel approach like a kid-safe smartwatch equipped with 911 capabilities.”

Russell stressed that prank calls to 911 are not as big an issue as many parents might think — and it’s a much smaller problem than a kid not being able to call for help in a real emergency.

“It's a huge misconception that kids prank-calling 911 is the problem,” Russell continues. “By far, the biggest problem is when kids can't make that essential call to keep themselves or someone they love safe. More kids with better training and safer technology will make a huge difference."

A bit of good news? The group that conducted the simulation study about kids dialing 911 followed up by creating a quick 5-minute video for kids about how to call. It’s a great start, along with showing your kid firsthand how to dial 911 on a smartphone — and perhaps looking into a smart device for your elementary school kid.

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