A Jaw-Dropping Study Reveals 91% of Kids Are Unable to Call 911

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How we teach kids to call 911 needs to change

Growing up, the few things I remember about safety training are “Stop, Drop, and Roll,” McGruff the Crime Dog, and learning how to call 911. Of course, most of us had one, maybe two, landlines in the house, so, in case of emergency, we knew where the phone would be if we needed it. A concerning new report shows kids today don’t know what to do in an emergency, including dialing that ever-important number.

This new information is based on two reports: One published in the AAP Publications Pediatrics reports 91% of elementary school kids don’t know how to understand when an emergency is happening and call 911 for help. The other from COSMO Technologies shows that 27.7 million U.S. kids under 12 don’t have regular access to a phone.

In the first study, researchers found that out of 50 elementary school children, only a small percentage could recognize a simulated emergency, process it, dial 911, and report the emergency to an operator. “Although nearly 80% of children use devices for media (eg, gaming, applications, videos) by 2 to 4 years of age, “researchers wrote, “their ability to use mobile devices to respond to an emergency, including bypassing a passcode to access the emergency call function, remains unknown.”

Around 50% of their parents said they’ve talked to their kids about how to call emergency services, and 34% of their parents said they’ve shown their children how to dial 911, in addition to learning this in school.

In total, no kindergarteners or first graders completed the entire simulation, and only 16% of second and third graders did so successfully, a staggering number given the importance.

While it is surprising, it really shouldn’t be. Schools often teach kids about how to call 911 from landlines instead of smartphones, and if you’re like most people, many homes no longer have landlines installed. Dialing 911 is often where the lesson ends, but kids also need to understand how to describe what is happening, know their address or where the emergency is occurring, and how to articulate the severity of the situation. To compound the issue, if kids don’t have their own phones with cellular data or know their parent’s passwords to their smartphone, they are, unfortunately, unable to help at all.

The second study provided more information. “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.”

To help close this gap in education, “Future research evaluating educational strategies using simulated practice with smartphone applications would help inform best practices,” researchers wrote.

Parents shouldn’t just leave it to our educators. Showing them exactly what to do, what information to provide, and how to access phones in the home is critical.

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