Misguided Guidelines – Result of technology’s infiltration into government sectors

When it comes to keeping children safe from harm, societies traditionally trusted their health, education and social governments to advise and guide them. While not every branch of government is wholly without fault, generally governments could be relied upon to act ethically and in the best interests of the public. Not so anymore. With the onslaught of advancing technology has come a rapid and questionable infiltration of technology corporations into both private and public sectors. While technology reaps obvious benefits, its long-term effects are unknown, raising serious questions regarding children. Rapid infiltration of untested technologies is occurring in many government institutions such as schools and hospitals, possibly resulting in perilous outcomes. Unbeknownst to the public, technology industry giants are challenging established institution’s ethical boundaries by pushing their products on children at an unprecedented state. Schools and hospitals are opening their doors to unethical and corrupt technology corporations who have one goal – to mine data and sell product. Once revered and respected, many institutions are compromising their previous ethical standards as they strive to conform to technology industry pressure to adopt the latest and greatest AI or IT. Choosing advancing technology over the long-term health and well being of children is tragic and will likely result in child harm. Public beware of who is guiding your governments to make crucial decisions regarding the health, safety and education of your children. This article is designed to shed light on three areas where government institutions caved to technology industry pressure, swaying them toward unsafe and unclear guidelines for children. These are just a minority of recent events which indicate that our governments are failing miserably to protect our most dear and cherished commodity, our children.

Infiltration of Health Sector by Microsoft

Just as Apple and Google are competing to infiltrate the education sector, Microsoft is deeply imbedding itself in healthcare. While positive outcomes from partnerships between technology corporations and government institutions are obvious, negative consequences are often hidden or disregarded. The recent media coverage of a research review by the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) raises serious concerns regarding partnerships between technology corporations and government healthcare institutions.  In addition to apparent conflict of interest, the RCPCH review used faulty and insufficient search strategies which media then misinterpreted and misrepresented to the public. BBC Jan. 4, ’19 article Worry less about children’s screen use, parents told stated the RCPCH review was carried out by experts at University College London (UCL). RCPCH president Prof Russell Viner prefaces the review by stating on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme “screens are part of modern life” adding: “The genie is out of the bottle – we cannot put it back.”

RCPCH Apparent Conflict of Interest

UCL is academic partner to Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) and is London’s leading multidisciplinary university with 11,000 staff, 35,000 students and an annual income of over £1bn. GOSH is an international centre of excellence in child healthcare and together with their research partner the UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health, GOSH forms the UK’s only academic Biomedical Research Centre specialising in paediatrics. Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) has announced a partnership with Microsoft which will see them collaborate on the development of artificial intelligence (AI) tools to transform child health. How does this collaboration manage the obvious conflict of interest?

RCPCH Flawed Search Strategy

The research review by the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) stated the following search strategy:

We searched electronic databases (Medline, Embase, PsycINFO and CINAHL) in February 2018. We used the search terms in Medline as follows: child OR teenager OR adolescent OR youth AND screen time OR television OR computer OR sedentary behaviour OR sedentary activity AND health with publication type limited to systematic review with or without meta-analysis. Similar search terms were used in the other databases. We did not limit studies by date or language. Identified relevant reviews were hand-searched for additional likely references.”

This search strategy is flawed as when researchers write papers, they are usually more specific in the terms used. An example would be excessive screen time is associated with: depression, obesity, anxiety, insomnia, abnormal brain development etc. The search term “health” encompasses all of the above, but the search strategy utilized will miss all of the above because the abstracts, titles, and keywords may not include the general term “health”. A better search strategy would be to replace the term health with symptoms and problems associated with excessive screen time e.g. addiction, depression, craving, anxiety, sleep deprivation, insomnia, obesity, behavioral problems, academic difficulties, brain development, etc.

Misinterpretation and Misrepresentation of Data

The RCPCH study was performed in Feb. 2018 and was accepted for publication by British Journal of Medicine in March 2018 (not much time for reflection on the outcomes before publication).  The study shows multiple strong adverse impacts on health but gets moulded into guidelines in which few of those impacts are mentioned. Guidelines are then release to the media (see Guardian article “Screen time not intrinsically bad for children, says Doctors” with wording that is vague and open to misinterpretation by media outlets, with no evidence that the general membership was involved or even approved these guidelines. At the same time the UK Health Secretary was calling for restrictions to be placed on social media.

Infiltration of Education Sector by Apple and Google

The past decade has witnessed rapid proliferation of screen devices (cell phones, tablets, laptops) in school settings without evidence-based research showing they are effective or safe. While researchers in neuroscience, epidemiology, toxicology and child developmental fields have issued warnings documenting health hazards from technological devices, public awareness is limited and health agencies whose mandate is to protect children remain silent (Moskowitz, 2017). It almost appears as if the education sector believes it can act independent of child safety. Roxanna Marachi, PhD from San Jose’ State University in 2018 conducted a content analyses on four widely disseminated reports promoting emerging forms of educational technology, blended and personalized learning programs, and strategies to rapidly scale such programs in schools. Marachi’s study revealed 0% attention to health and/or developmental concerns that have been documented in the scientific, education, health, and child development research literatures. In contrast, analyses revealed relatively high rates of finance-related terms such as investment and market within the reports. It is abundantly clear that the education technology industry’s sole intent is to make money off the backs of young children not only through device and programs sales, but also through student data mining which grossly infringes on student privacy. While technology corporations are infiltrating the education sector with inaccurate, untested and fraudulent claims of improved learning and efficiency, school administrations are actively disregarding and discounting all negative mental, physical, social and cognitive adverse effects of escalating screen use by children. How did this happen?

While there are many devices and programs designed for educational settings, one of the most prolific and sinister is Summit Learning, an online platform used to collect student data and deliver instruction and assessments. The platform was developed with the financial and technical support of Facebook, the Gates Foundation and the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, a for-profit LLC headquartered in California founded by billionaire Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy reports that students who use Summit Learning spend > 3 hours per day in front of a screen with only 10 min. of supervisor support, and by the end of last school year, only 30% passed. Summit Learning website claims the right to collect an extraordinary amount of personal student information including student and parent names and their email addresses; student ID numbers, attendance, suspension and expulsion records, disabilities, their gender, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, their date of birth, teacher observations of their behavior, their grade promotion or retention, test scores, college admissions, survey responses, homework assignments, and any extracurricular activities they engage in. Summit also plans to track students after graduation from high school, including college attendance and careers. The Parent Coalition for Student Privacy goes on to report the Summit shares this data to as many as 19 corporate “partners” including the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, to run their services and do research to help them improve their “product.” In addition, several of the websites that students are assigned through the Summit platform track student data for marketing and advertising purposes, including YouTube. There is no independent oversight of Summit or its partner companies to ensure that they are using the data appropriately or securing it from breaches.

With prolific research showing little to no academic benefits from screen use in schools and equally as much research showing harm to children from excessive screen use, one really has to wonder who is driving this rapidly escalating EdTech Train. With the OECD releasing a scathing denouncement of EdTech in 2015, schools continued to escalate screen use. Despite knowledge about tech industry data mining and privacy breaches, schools continued to escalate screen use. With mounting research showing the isolating and sedentary aspects of screens displace achieving literacy, social interaction and physical fitness, and high screen use is causally linked to poor physical and mental health, schools continued to escalate screen use. With full knowledge that students are routinely accessing inappropriate content while at school including video games, pornography, cyberbullying, and social media, schools continued to escalate screen use. Knowing that some students are addicted to screens and that multitasking inherent in screen use is harming student health, school continued to escalate screen use.

Through pervasive and unchecked screen use penetrating every sector of being, we have unknowingly participated in an epic experiment on humans fueled by greed in the technology industry, which is presently showing grave harm to children’s physical, social, mental and academic performance. We need to stop the EdTech Train, bring it back to the station and scrutiny of common sense, and pick up all of the children who have fallen off.

What about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

Wireless devices have not been proven safe with mounting evidence showing harm, yet few members of the public are aware of the enormity of this unfolding travesty. Many levels of federal, state/provincial and municipal governments have consultants from the technology industry who have much to lose if restrictions were put in place to stop the production of technology devices and unrolling of 5G. There are 3 sources of accumulating data showing wireless radiation is unsafe: 1) epidemiological human studies, 2) experimental animal studies, and 3) rising cancer incidence in humans (for additional information see Wireless Radiation is Not Safe for Children).  Health government agencies while aware of this rising threat have failed to warn the public or advise the public of what to do to keep children safe.

The FDA nominated the National Toxicology Program to do an extensive study on mice and rats investigating possible links between cell phone radiation and cancer. Preliminary results were released in 2016 with final study results made public in Jan. ’18 showing ‘clear evidence’ for malignant heart schwannoma and ‘some evidence’ for brain glioma and adrenal pheochromocytoma. This evidence was reviewed by expert panel in Mar. ’18 confirming original findings. Yet Mark Hertsgaard reported in The Guardian article “The inconvenient truth about cancer and mobile phones” that not one major news organization in the US or Europe reported this scientific news, but then news coverage of mobile phone safety has long reflected the outlook of the wireless industry. For a quarter of a century now, the industry has been orchestrating a global PR campaign aimed at misleading not only journalists, but also consumers and policymakers about the actual science concerning mobile phone radiation. Indeed, big wireless has borrowed the very same strategy and tactics big tobacco and big oil pioneered to deceive the public about the risks of smoking and climate change, respectively. And like their tobacco and oil counterparts, wireless industry CEOs lied to the public even after their own scientists privately warned that their products could be dangerous, especially to children.

Dr. Robert Melnick in an article for The Hill “There’s a clear cell phone-cancer link, but the FDA is downplaying it” published on Nov. 13, ’18 reports that according to Jeffrey Shuren, Director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, “these findings should not be applied to human cell phone usage,” adding that “we believe the existing safety limits for cell phones remain acceptable for protecting the public health” despite any existing supporting evidence. Dr. Melnick went on to say that while expressing this opinion, Dr. Shuren neglects to note that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of the World Health Organization, classified radio-frequency radiation from wireless devices as a “possible human carcinogen” based largely on findings of increased risks of gliomas and Schwann cell tumors in the brain near the ear in humans after long term use of cellphones. Thus, the same tumor types are elevated in both animals and humans exposed to cell phone radiation. Dr. Melnick in The Hill article goes on to report that the FDA’s position is quite unusual because it was this agency that nominated cell phone radiation emitted from wireless communication devices to the NTP for toxicity and carcinogenicity studies in experimental animals so as to “provide the basis to assess the risk to human health.”

Health concerns for children may be greater than that for adults due to increased penetration of cell phone radiation within the brains of children. Simply ignoring the cancer data from the NTP studies is not in the interest of public health. Because of the widespread use of cell phones among the general public, even a small increase in cancer risk would have a serious public health impact. An important lesson that should be learned from the NTP studies is that we can no longer assume that any current or future wireless technology, including 5G, is safe without adequate testing.

Sarah Starkey with the UK Independent Neuroscience and Environmental Health Research published an article in 2016 titled Inaccurate official assessment of radiofrequency safety by the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation which states the Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (AGNIR) 2012 report forms the basis of official advice on the safety of radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields in the United Kingdom and has been relied upon by health protection agencies around the world. This review describes incorrect and misleading statements from within the report, omissions and conflict of interest, which make it unsuitable for health risk assessment. The executive summary and overall conclusions did not accurately reflect the scientific evidence available. Independence is needed from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the group that set the exposure guidelines being assessed. This conflict of interest critically needs to be addressed for the forthcoming World Health Organisation (WHO) Environmental Health Criteria Monograph on Radiofrequency Fields. Decision makers, organisations and individuals require accurate information about the safety of RF electromagnetic signals if they are to be able to fulfil their safeguarding responsibilities and protect those for whom they have legal responsibility.

Wireless radiation threat to our children is real and will result in harm. Applying the pre-cautionary principle (increase distance, decrease duration) while reducing radiation, is unlikely to protect children in the long term. It is time for parents and teachers to “Go wired” and use only ethernet cabled devices with children.

This article was written by Cris Rowan, BScBi, BScOT a biologist and pediatric occupational therapist passionate about changing the ways in which children use technology. Cris’s website is www.zonein.ca, blog www.movingtolearn.ca, and book www.virtualchild.ca. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca.

Screens and Meals – From babies to adults, mealtime should be screen-free.

The evening meal is traditionally recognized as a social occasion involving family members, a table/chairs, and a home cooked dinner. When I was a child, dinners involved my two brothers and I suffering through an hour-long event where we had to listen to my father go on and on about work issues which were totally unrelated to us. I did though look forward to our family dinner ritual where each of us got to relay one good thing and one bad thing that happened to us that day…and we weren’t allowed to interrupt! Looking back now I realized how incredibly formative our dinners were in helping me learn how to listen, wait my turn, and regulate my behavior to fit into the social unit we call a family.

Fast forward to today’s hectic lives where meals are haphazard and fast paced, and often paired with screens. While at first glace this may be the ‘new normal’, use of screens at meals when combined with distracted parenting is causing significant safety issues. Neonatal Intensive Care units are reporting rising rates of aspiration from babies being bottle or breast fed while parents are attending to their phones, termed “brexting”. Toddlers are failing to reach important emotional and social developmental milestones by being conditioned to eat and use the poddy while watching You Tube cartoons. Unable to self-regulate their behavior without a device will negatively impact these children the rest of their lives. As children are increasingly allowed to use screens during meals, they are eating more food and eat for longer durations, contributing to already rising levels of obesity and diabetes. As food content choice in both children and teens is driven by TV commercials which push high carb and low nutrition, general health declines. Brain development theory states “neurons that fire together wire together’ meaning that when we pair food with screens, the brain becomes conditioned to eat while watching TV or alternatively turn on a screen while eating.

What used to be a family event marked by social interactions, eating is now an ‘asocial’ episode performed in isolation. Humans are “pack” animals who develop optimally within their packs and don’t do well when isolated. There are many hazards to infants whose parents are on their phones during breast or bottle feeding, but the biggest worry is that this is a salient time for establishing a life sustaining bond. From birth (and even in utero) the infant’s “job” is to attach to their parents. Secure attachment between child and parent is a life force which ensures survival. When a parent is distracted by screens, the infant is tasked with working very hard to establish attachment, often resulting in what is termed anxious or disorganized attachment. Failure of primary attachment plays out in many ways and can eventually result in mental illness as a child, youth or adult. Competing with cell phones and tablets, children are struggling in their attempts to get their parent’s undivided and nourishing attention. The Still Face Experiment video demonstrates of the effect of parental inattention on child well being, which illustrates what happens whenever a parent looks away from a child at their screen.

Eating together as a family without screens, not only nourishes children’s bodies but also feeds their souls. So parents…please put down the phone and pick up your child. Your job as a parent will only get easier.

Jenifer Joy Madden author of The Durable Human has produced this video which shows a trying to get attention and why mealtimes should be screen free: Be There to Feed Your Baby Broccoli. Video by DurableHuman.com.

This article was written by Cris Rowan who is passionate about changing the ways in which children use technology. Cris is a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of the book “Virtual Child”. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca. Additional information and Fact Sheet can be found on her website www.zonein.ca and blog www.movingtolearn.ca.

Ten reasons why video games should be banned for children under the age of 12

Video games are a ubiquitous form of entertainment in today’s children and youth, and while fun and exciting, have a darker side that parents, teachers and health professionals can no longer ignore. While many adults struggle with gaming addiction, parents don’t seem to consider gaming’s addictive nature when allowing young children to game. When evaluating impact of video games on children, 3 parameters are important to consider: duration, content, and age of first exposure. Children who start gaming later in childhood, and who stay under the expert guidelines for duration and content, will likely demonstrate less negative effects from gaming. Whereas children who start gaming young in life, play video games for long periods, and who play predominantly Mature content with sexual and physical violence, will likely exhibit a greater number of below noted negative effects. Children who experience 3 or more of the following conditions have significant negative effects from playing video games, and should work with their parents, physician and/or therapist to improve access to healthy activities and stop using video games if under the age of 12 years. Teens who are older than 12 years of age and demonstrate more than 3 of the following conditions, would benefit from increasing access to healthy activities and subsequently reduce game duration, change to non-violent game content, and possibly consider quitting gaming altogether until 18 years of age.

  1. Physical impairments: high blood pressure, sedentary effects (obesity, overweight, developmental delay, myopia, musculature disuse/overuse).

When children are gaming their bodies are sedentary and their brains overstimulated. Developing bodies crave movement, yet video games entrance and hypnotize the brain into sitting still, often for very long periods. Sedentary bodies delay physical development while also overstimulating the heart, causing serious and often irreversible physical impairments. Psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley author of “Reset your child’s brain” reports that when children play video games, their sympathetic nervous system goes into a hyper aroused state of “flight or fight” characterized by adrenalin release from adrenal glands and dopamine production in the brain. Sustained high blood pressure and increased heart rate from prolonged gaming, increases risk for heart attack and stroke in later years. A child taking stimulant medication for adhd who also plays video games, increases the load on their hearts. Causal factors for video game induced hyperarousal are fast paced and violent content, bright lights, rewards, multitasking, and interactivity. Long term high adrenalin states can result in chronic adrenal fatigue, causally implicated in physical illnesses including cancer and autoimmune disorders.

  1. Brain damage (from frontal love pruning): attention deficit, impulsivity, learning disorders.

To achieve functional efficiency during brain development, the brain prunes or cuts away neuronal tracks to areas of the brain that are not being used. The frontal lobes of the brain are known for executive functions such as attention, memory, and impulse control which are critical for academic success. Because brains develop in conjunction with stimuli in the surrounding environment, media content in high screen users is key regarding brain pruning. Exposure to mindful or educational content results in active or constructive learning, which maintains and strengthens neuronal tracks to frontal lobes. Whereas exposure to mindless or entertainment content such as fast paced and violent video games, constitutes passive or destructive learning which rarely requires use of frontal lobes, resulting in frontal lobe pruning. Numerous research studies have documented frontal lobe atrophy in children who game over 4-5 hours per day. While brain development has a degree of plasticity or ability to repair damage, over half of the brain is hard wired at age 12 years and the brain is effectively hard wired at age 25 years.

  1. Sleep Deprivation

In classroom-based Tech Talks, 75% of students report they are allowed screens in their bedrooms and 50% report they use screens when they should be sleeping. The Canadian Sleep Foundation reports that over 60% of children and youth are chronically sleep deprived increasing their risk for obesity, diabetes, poor academic performance, risk taking, depression, anxiety, heart problems, and even cancer. Children who come to school tired from being up at night gaming and/or using social media are moody, volatile, and completely unable to pay attention, memorize facts, or assimilate information to promote learning.

  1. Aggression and/or Violence

The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement Virtual Violence in July 2016 advising  pediatricians, parents, industry and policy makers regarding current video game research and recommendations. Regarding research findings, Virtual Violence states: “Summarizing the results of > 400 studies including violent media of all types, researchers found there was a significant association between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and physiologic arousal. Another study performed a similar analysis focusing only on video games. The results, based on 140 such studies, found slightly larger negative effect sizes. Some contend, rightly, that these correlations are in the small to moderate range, but they are stronger than the associations between passive smoking and lung cancer, and many municipalities have banned smoking because of that risk”. APA goes on to recommend that children under the age of 6 years have no exposure to media violence, and first-person shooter games should be restricted from children under the age of 12 years.

  1. Mental illness: addiction, depression, anxiety, suicide risk.

Video games are highly immersive and are persuasively and immorally designed by psychologists for the sole purpose of making users addicted. Use of intermittent rewards are common and team aspect of gaming both contribute to long periods of continuous play. Anxiety and depression are consistent with gaming, and suicide risk and attempts when gaming becomes addictive. Following 24 hour “Survivor Unplugged” challenge where students are tasked with a mission, to go 24 hours without use of any screens. The next morning in follow up “Tech Talk” classroom sessions, gamers who stopped using video games for 24 hours reported that they felt “happier”, slept better, and fought less with their parents and siblings. Reports of going outside to play were frequent, as were acting out video games outside with props such as tree branches (swords) and garbage can lids (shields).

  1. Poor academic performance, school absenteeism, truancy, drop out.

North American academic performance is declining as evidenced by 2015 and 2018 PISA scores. Ontario reports half of grade eight students are below the 70th percentile in math. Children who are not meeting grade requirements are advanced to the next grade regardless of their performance, creating a ‘bar’ that is progressively too high for student achievement. The result? Children who continually fail are refusing to do school work, come late from gaming into the night, or don’t come to school at all, preferring to stay at home in their virtual worlds where they don’t fail playing video games or watching Netflix. Children who tell their parents they don’t want to go to school is a sign of pending trouble, and all efforts should be made to support the student at school with provision of ‘bar just right’ work, and prohibit gaming if child stays at home (lock all devices up in car trunks or filing cabinets, create passwords for all computers).

  1. Poor social relationships; autism, social phobia.

Co-regulation from human connection leads to eventual self-regulation and ability to attain and maintain complex social relationships. As with any developmental domain, social skills follow the “use it or loose it” rule e.g. to develop social prowess, children must engage socially with others. Early studies are showing that early exposure to screens between 9-18 months of age, coupled with reduced social interaction and limited social play, increase incidence of autism. As children age into teens and adulthood, self-regulation and social skills are salient determinants of job attainment. Social skills develop consistent with social modelling theory where children pattern social interactions through observation of surrounding parents and siblings. When parents are on their phones, children feel neglected and yearn for social interaction. In the absence of the parent’s attention, children are bonding and attaching to screens at an alarming rate. 

  1. Unemployable

Chronic video game immersion does nothing to prepare children and teens for the rigours of work and social performance demanded by employers. Poor achievement of literacy, inability to problem solve, and inability to think critically and reason are huge detriments to sustainable employment. More young adults are living with their parents than at any other time in history and what is surprising is that this situation appears acceptable and even preferable to many parents who state “At least I know where they are”. Forced dependence is a parental trait frequently observed today as evidenced by use of safety restraints well beyond developmental age e.g. strollers or carrying of 5-year-olds, fear of the outdoors keeping children inside after school and on weekends and declined enrollment in organized sports and after school activities. These attempts to not let children grow up are resulting in ‘stay at home kids’ who may never gain the skills necessary to leave the nest.

Percentage of young adults aged 20 to 24 and 25 to 29 living in the parental home, Canada, 1981 to 2011.

  1. Game Transfer Phenomena.

We’ve all seen children acting like characters recently viewed in cartoons, movies or video games. While these actions could be considered “normal” and part of pretend play in early years, what is abnormal is when the child dissociates and becomes non-responsive to interactions with parents, teachers or other children. Early immersion in violent virtual content can create a condition termed “gamer brain” when it appears as if the child has been consumed by gaming content. Another term adopted by researchers is “Game Transfer Phenomena” where the child exhibits visual, auditory or body perceptions where they “see”, “hear” and/or “feel” the imagery of the video game. When asked if they are “in the game” now, children will respond with stating what they are seeing and experiencing endemic in the game. These children are more likely to act out aggressively or violently as they mimic the characters in the video game.

  1. Porn and sexual perversions.

Children who game use porn, and porn is endemic in many video games. Many parents don’t know or refuse to accept the fact that young children are learning about sex through pornographic video games, and it’s not the type of sex which promotes eventual healthy relationships. On more than one occasion I’ve come across boys “humping” girls on the playground and when asked what they are doing, respond with “I don’t know”…because they don’t know what to call it, they’ve only viewed it on Grand Theft Auto V. Immersion in graphic violent or depraved porn for long durations not only can result in sexualized violence perpetrated by the viewer, but also contributes to the rise in trafficking of young children and teens for porn and prostitution purposes. Porn eventually causes erectile dysfunction at which point porn users need to seek help. There are numerous porn support networks (see below) to help parents, children and teens better understand the dangers associated with porn use.

Porn Help Information

Gary Wilson’s You-Tube video “Your Brain on Porn”.

Noah Church and Gabedeem You-Tube video on porn addiction.

Fight the New Drug www.fightthenewdrug.org – porn support website and resources.

Fortify www.joinfortify.com – online porn support community free to those under 17 years.

Reddit No Fap www.reddit.com/r/NoFap – online support forum for stopping porn.

Reboot Nation –online support forum for stopping porn.

Culture Reframed www.culturereframed.org – online curriculum and resources for parents of porn users.

Porn Help www.pornhelp.org – porn support website and resources.

This article was written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of “Virtual Child” book. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca; website: www.zonein.ca; blog: www.movingtolearn.ca.

Screens in Schools – Are ‘tech-centric’ teachers addicted to technology?

As the debate rages about the use of cell phones, tablets and computers in schools, one unaddressed question is “Are the teachers that are pushing more and more technology on students, themselves addicted to screens”? To what extent do teacher’s desire to use technology influence their decisions regarding screen use with students? This article intends to highlight what is really going on behind the closed doors of classrooms and poses common sense solutions toward improving education and learning for all students.

Frequently I hear ‘tech-centric’ teachers and principals chastise ‘traditional’ teachers who choose not to use screen-based teaching. The tech-centric teachers cite that traditional teachers are being old-fashioned, non-progressive, or just plain scared of technology. What tech-centric teachers fail to realize is that their colleagues are following tried and true, evidenced-based methods of instructing their students designed to achieve literacy and academic success. Traditional teachers are continuing to teach, and their students are continuing to learn, whereas in the tech-centric classroom, teaching and learning have stopped dead in their tracks. Without any evidence that technology does anything more than entertain students, whole districts have moved to essentially replace teachers and books with devices. Unsupervised and largely unrestricted, students are spending inordinate amounts of time playing videogames, watching porn and movies, and using social media (including cyberbullying) when they could have been learning. While students actively oppose using screens for teaching and learning, with one study showing 92% of students preferring books, paper, and pen, no one appears to be listening. Against all common sense, parent protests, and student refusals, schools march forward with escalating technology use, apparently blind to the catastrophic damage they are wreaking on students across the globe.

Numerous observations and conversations with these tech-centric teachers yield interesting data. Many teachers who are new to the field, report that when they attended university, they did not receive instruction regarding how to teach basic literacy (printing, reading and math), nor were they taught how to manage problematic behaviors, but instead were guided to employ the use of screens. Not knowing HOW to teach literacy or manage classrooms, grossly limits a teacher’s confidence and skill, resulting in teachers defaulting to the much easier and more pacifying screen, whether to teach or just for entertainment. The number of classrooms who daily watch a movie or cartoons not just during lunch, but during class, is mind numbing. While screens do keep students quiet, are they learning information or skills that are transferable and useful is a salient question. Best practice teaching and learning is interactive, requires critical thinking, is unpredictable, and requires student’s imagination and creativity be challenged…none of which are found when passively watching screens. Another trait noticed in tech-centric teachers is what appears to be screen addiction, where the teacher is unable to control their own use of screen devices. Constantly checking emails, texting, Facebooking, and even playing videogames have been observed, frequently. What appears obvious, yet never spoken about in schools, is that while the teacher is on their cell phone, student’s own screen content and durations of use are unsupervised, resulting in the student switching from active learning to entertainment. This unrestricted use of porn, videogames, social media, and cyberbullying is far more common in students who themselves have screen addictions.

Another reason for high screen use in schools touted by ‘tech-centric’ teachers is that students need their phones to text with parents during the day. Really? Parents texting their children during school time disrupts precious learning opportunities, as well as creates a dependent and insecure child.  School provision of online books and online assignments to students have created havoc in many homes who are striving to manage their child’s screen use, as the student says they are doing their homework, but are really using screens for entertainment. While kids need ‘down’ time and activity choice, they don’t need 9 hours per day of passive entertainment. As children and teens use cell phones 97% of the time for entertainment purposes, switching to educational content on the same device becomes problematic. If students were actively learning while at school, homework should consist of applying this learned information, which should not require time online.  Numerous studies have shown, and teachers report, that use of computers for learning is fraught with frustrations including online textbooks repeatedly going offline, and online homework being a waste of time for both students and teachers due to non-operational or too hard to understand computer systems.

As schools continue to incorporate more screen teaching, learning, and entertainment into student’s daily schedules, both students and teachers are demonstrating increased incidence of screen addictions. In 2018, The World Health Organization classified Gaming Disorder as a mental illness. Schools don’t give cocaine to drug addicts, or alcohol to alcoholics, yet schools readily give out screens to gaming, porn and social media addicts, and let them do these activities at school. Isn’t this wrong?  Knowing that 50% of children and teens self-identify as being screen addicted should at the very least warrant teachers judicious and selective use of these devices. With 35% of adults reporting they spend too much time on their phones, do we want to trust ‘tech-centric’ teacher’s choices about their rising and unsupervised use of screens with students? If adults are having a hard time managing their own screen use, how can we expect children to do any better.

Other considerations regarding consequences of screen overuse are increased learning difficulties from multitasking and attention deficit from use of fast paced screen media content. When students spend a large amount of their school day distracted by screens, this is wasted time that could have been spent learning. Teachers have such a small amount of time to teach to children; using mindless screen content in place of potential learning almost seems criminal. Additional concerns are rising depression and suicide in teens attributed to overuse of screens.  Do schools really want to contribute to the escalation of these problematic issues by continuing to overuse screens in schools?

What can schools do now to stop overusing screens? The following technology management initiatives can be easily implemented to ensure teachers get back to doing what they do best – teaching, and students can begin to learn.

  1. Ban all cell phones from schools. The whole country of France implemented this initiative in Sept. 2018. This will require schools do the following:
  • Get textbooks and homework assignments offline e.g. purchase real books and hand out assignments on paper.
  • Tell parents that if they have a message for their child to leave it with the school secretary.
  • Provide counselling assistance to teachers with cell phone addiction.
  1. Don’t use technology for teaching, learning or entertainment until printing, reading and math literacy has been achieved (at least grade 3).
  1. Don’t use any technology with screen addicted students or teachers. The underlying causal factor for addictions is failure of primary attachment. People with addictions need people, not screens. Don’t use goggle docs in class. Get a standing table and gather students around for interactive discussion and idea creation.
  1. Stop use of all entertainment-based technologies in schools including movies (documentaries are an exception), cartoons, social media, etc. and create a cyberbullying policy for when students are not on school grounds.
  1. Create a Technology Management Policy for your school. Start with surveying students and teachers regarding what type and amount of screen content is currently being used in schools to attain a baseline from which to make technology management decisions (see below).

School Technology Management Policy Survey

Students and school staff: please write in the total amount of minutes you spend in respective box using each of the following technologies while in classroom, on school grounds, or at school events e.g. fieldtrips. 

Click here for Downloadable pdf

If you’re a teacher or parent in support of building foundations for literacy, consider signing the Refuse to Use petition.

Above article and Technology Management Policy Survey was written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of “Virtual Child” book. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca; website: www.zonein.ca; blog: www.movingtolearn.ca.

© Zone’in Programs Inc. Sept. 2018

Ten reasons why children under the age of 12 should not play violent video games.

Video games are a ubiquitous form of entertainment in today’s children and youth, and while fun and exciting, video games have a dark side that parents, teachers and clinicians can no longer afford to ignore. The recent rise in mass killings by gun, knife and moving vehicles, has wrongly focused on gangs and gun control as a primary intervention. Society would be wise to shift attention toward understanding the underlying components of a mass killer. While there are likely multiple factors contributing to the origins of mass killers, we do know that all shooters are gamers, and that gangs use video games to practice the art of shooting. Immersion in a virtual reality of violence has profound impact on developing brains, highlighting the urgency in looking at what type and how much violent media our children are exposed to, and at what age. Regarding brain and body development, what children do determines who they become. Children who excessively engage in mindless, fast paced, violent media content, will have a much different brain and body than a child who plays outside in nature. The new generation video games contain substantial amounts of increasingly realistic representations of physical and sexualized violence. The mature nature of such games is not suitable for children under the age of eighteen, yet many children I work with are playing violent, mature content as young as age 3. Managing video game use by children is not easy, but well worth considering with reference to the negative ramifications of gaming overuse on child health and wellness. Three parameters are important to consider in video game management: duration, content, and age of first exposure. Children who start gaming later in childhood, and who follow expert guidelines for game duration and content (see below), will demonstrate less negative effects. Whereas children who play fast paced, violent video games for long periods, and who start gaming as a young child, will exhibit a greater number of below noted negative effects. It is advised that children who experience 3 or more of the following escalating conditions should work with their parents, physician and/or therapist to reduce video game duration, change to non-violent content, and quit violent gaming altogether if < 12 years of age. This is a hard step for most parents to take, and an even harder step for parents with children exhibiting adverse effects of video games. Parents cannot continue to look away from these potential or real problems in their children. What we resists, persists; what we look at, disappears.

  1. Physical Harm

When children are gaming their bodies are sedentary and their hearts and brains overstimulated, causing significant physical harm. Developing bodies crave movement, yet video games entrance and hypnotize the brain into telling the body to sit still, often for very long periods. Psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley author of “Reset your child’s brain” reports that when children play video games, their sympathetic nervous system responds with a hyperarousal state of “flight or fight” characterized by adrenalin release from adrenal glands and dopamine production in the brain. We know that sustained high blood pressure and increased heart rate from prolonged gaming, increases risk for heart attack and stroke in later years. A child who plays video games who is also taking stimulant medication for adhd, or a gaming child who is physically unfit, increases their risk for eventual heart attack and stroke. In over 30 years as a pediatric occupational therapist, I have observed rapid escalation in prescription of stimulant medications to incredibly unfit children who refuse to participate in PE or outdoor activities. Causal factors for video game induced hyperarousal are fast paced and violent content, bright lights, rewards, multitasking, and interactivity. Long term high adrenalin stress states can result in chronic adrenal fatigue, implicated in a number of physical illnesses including cancer and autoimmune disorders.

Question: Is your child physically healthy?

To Do: More green time, less screen time. Only allow screens if homework finished and kids have played outside for at least one hour after school. Get out the bikes; do more family-based activities.

Click image to enlarge.

  1. Brain Damage

To achieve functional efficiency during brain development, the brain prunes or cuts away neuronal tracks to areas of the brain that are not being used. The frontal lobes of the brain are known for executive functions such as attention, memory, and impulse control which are critical for academic success. Because brains develop in conjunction with stimuli in the surrounding environment, media content in high screen users is key regarding brain pruning. Exposure to mindful or educational content results in active or constructive learning, which maintains and strengthens neuronal tracks to frontal lobes. Whereas exposure to mindless or entertainment content such as fast paced and violent video games, constitutes passive or destructive learning which research shows rarely requires use of frontal lobes, resulting in frontal lobe pruning. Again, ‘what you do determines who you become’. Numerous research studies have documented frontal lobe atrophy in children who game over 4-5 hours per day. While brain development has a degree of plasticity or ability to repair damage, over half of the brain is hard wired at age 12, and the majority of the brain is hard wired at age 20 years. Children have the right to a childhood free from violence. Encouraging outdoor play in nature can heal the neurological damage created by overexposure of violent media content.

Question: Is your child impulsive or has difficulty paying attention?

To Do: Talk with your child’s teacher to see how they are doing academically, and ensure your child is not allowed to game at school.

  1. Sleep Deprivation

The National Sleep Foundation reports that over 60% of children and youth are chronically sleep deprived. While we know that sleep is essential for brain repair and body health, what the general public doesn’t know is that sleep deprivations increases incidence of obesity, diabetes, poor academic performance, risk taking, heart problems (stroke and heart attack) and even cancer. During my classroom-based Tech Talks, 75% of students report they are allowed screens in their bedrooms and 50% report they use screens when they should be sleeping.

Question: Is your child using screens late or in the middle of the night?

To Do: Prohibit all screen usage one hour prior to bed; book, bath, bed. Do not allow screens in bedrooms, or any other area where you can’t monitor content e.g. back seat of car, bathroom, when you’re not home.

  1. Violence

With rise in video gaming, prolific research is documenting concomitant rise in violence and aggression. In 2009 the American Academy of Pediatrics profiled extensive studies showing media violence is causally linked to child aggression, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed. Early exposure to violent media content has been shown to increase risk of violent behavior. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement Virtual Violence in July 2016 advising  pediatricians, parents, industry and policy makers regarding current video game research and recommendations. Regarding research findings, Virtual Violence policy states: “Summarizing the results of > 400 studies including violent media of all types, researchers found there was a significant association between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and physiologic arousal. Another study performed a similar analysis focusing only on video games. The results, based on 140 such studies, found slightly larger negative effect sizes. Some contend, rightly, that these correlations are in the small to moderate range, but they are stronger than the associations between passive smoking and lung cancer, and many municipalities have banned smoking because of that risk”. APA goes on to recommend that children under the age of 6 years have no exposure to media violence, and first-person shooter games should be restricted from children under the age of 12 years.

Click image to enlarge.

Question: Has your child threatened to harm you or themselves if video games are restricted?

To Do: Get your family physician on board to talk with your child about video games and if needed, get a referral for a family counsellor or therapist immediately. This is an urgent situation and requires assistance from trained professionals. Check out Common Sense Media’s list of non-violent video games!

  1. Game Transfer Phenomena

Media imagery affects behavior, a fact capitalized on by the advertising industry. Video game imagery is increasingly realistic and highly immersive, even more so with the onset of large screens and virtual reality headsets. Research is now documenting Game Transfer Phenomena, where gamers retain visual imagery and violent behaviors endemic in the game and transfer these to real life. A study of adult gamers showed 71% visualized video game imagery with eyes closed after gaming; 31% visualized imagery with eyes open. This raises the question of what children experience following video game immersion. The problem with younger children is that they are more impressionable, and what they see on TV or video games, they act out in real life. Gamer brain is becoming increasingly problematic in schools where children act out scenes from violent mature video games resulting in acts of sexualized and physical violence toward other students. One 9-year-old boy I assessed who spoke incessantly about playing Halo Zombies, threw a rock at a passing truck breaking the window stating “I thought I saw zombies in it”. Matthew de Grood, a noted ‘chronic video gamer’, killed five college students stating “I thought they were zombies”. Dr. Andrew Haag testifying psychiatrist in the trial proceedings, stated that de Grood “was having delusional symptoms which had a profound impact on how he perceived reality”. The recent mass shooting in a Saskatchewan school killing 4 students was by a noted ‘loner and video gamer’. Serial killer Dillan Millard reported he played Halo 4 hours per day using Zombie bullets which explode upon entry. ISIS recently created the ARMA III video game to train ISIS recruits. The recent mass shooting in Florida killing 49 people was by an ISIS militant.

Question: Does your child “see or hear” video games when not playing, or act out behaviors endemic in the video game?

To Do: In addressing the recent rise in mass killings, a prevention protocol should include restriction of violent media content for developing brains. Banning video games for children < 12 years is an excellent start toward protecting civilians from those intent on mass killings.

  1. Mental Illness

The Canadian Mental Health Association reports 1 in 7 children and youth have a diagnosed mental illness.  Douglas Gentile’s 2009 study indicated 1 out of 10 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology, with Common Sense Media reporting 50% of youth self-report screen addiction. Never in the history of humankind have there been child addictions. Difficult and expensive to treat, very soon this will become the job of every health and education professional…treating child and youth screen addictions. Schools wouldn’t give children cocaine or crack, yet they readily hand out equally as damaging and addictive devices to students on a daily basis, unmonitored. I routinely walk behind students in the hallways, playground, and classrooms and observe social networking, video games, and even pornography. A 14-year old youth I was assessing for aggression toward other children told me he played violent video games “almost all the time”. When asked why he hurts other children stated “I get a rush when I hurt others”. While this boy reported he understood there could be a link between violent video game use and aggression, he did not believe that playing video games had any impact on his liking to hurt other children. When asked if he could do the “Unplug Challenge” and not use any screens for 24 hours, he immediately responded with “No way”. With increasing research showing harmful effects of screens on child and youth mental health, prohibiting violent media content in children under the age of 12 years is urgently needed. Prohibiting personal device usage in school settings makes a strong statement to children and their parents of the need to limit screen usage.

Question: Do you think your child is happy?

To Do: Children want to play with their parents and friends. Put the phone down, pick up your kids, and go do something fun outside…now.

  1. Poor Social Relationships

Children learn social skills from watching and interacting with their parents. If parents rarely communicate with each other or their children, these children fail to learn social skills, and go onto a life strife with communication and behavioral issues. There is a critical period at 6-18 mo. of age for attaining social ability. Infants who spend too much time in front of screens, and too little time interacting with their parents, have increased risk of developing autism and oppositional defiance disorder. Parents model functional (or dysfunctional) relationships, which dictate to a large degree how their child will relate to others. Parents who have good relationships with each other, generally understand how to relate to and meet the needs of their children, who in turn pass these social skills onto their siblings and friends. Children who live in a virtual world for long periods, have great difficulty dealing with problems and demands in the real world. Children who’s parents overuse screens feel neglected, and consequently find solace in screens. Hilarie Cash, director of reSTART internet addiction recovery center, states in this video that youth and young adults in her program tell her that there are a number of steps parents can take to prevent gaming addiction including:

  • Help your child develop alternate interests to video games;
  • Repair your own relationship;
  • Do not expect perfection in your child;
  • Be attune to your child’s needs;
  • Set rules and guidelines for internet usage;
  • Model those rules yourselves.

As social skills are key in establishing primary relationship with partners, as well as securing jobs upon graduation, children and youth who have social anxiety or are socially phobic will have much greater difficulty experiencing meaningful relationships and finding work.

Question: Does your child have real (not screen-based) friends?

To Do: Prepare and eat dinner together screen-free every night and invite conversation and dialogue with your children, spend at least half a day once per week in screen free outdoor activity, spend your family holiday screen free. One hour per day, one day per week, one week per year screen free.

  1. Poor Academic Performance

Regarding early exposure to violent media content, Dimitri Christakis study on fast paced, violent cartoons in 2011 exposed 4-year-old children to 9 min. of SpongeBobs, and found significant decreases in memory, concentration and attention…after only 9 minutes! Research by Jay Hull in 2015 found that moderate gamers who use less than 4 hours per day of video games show increased risky behaviors (sex, reckless driving, drugs/alcohol, smoking), increased defiance, and decreased executive function (attention, concentration, memory). Heavy gamers who use > 4 hours per day of video games,  have 4-5 times increased incidence of previously noted effects. While high school drop out rates have steadily declined over the past decade, gamers are at much higher risk than non-gamers for dropping out of high school and university. Increasing incidence of absenteeism and tardiness of children and youth in schools always has me asking students what they were doing at home, and not surprising to hear they were gaming late into the night. Students who are good at gaming often tell me that school is “boring” or “too hard”, and that they don’t get rewarded for trying to do their work. Many students I work with outright refuse to do school work, and many teachers are turning to using video games as a reward for produced work at school. We are all aware that high school dropouts have much greater difficulty finding and sustaining jobs, as do video game addicts who again are looking for rewards and achievement in their work that they find favorable in video games. One alarming Canadian statistic is that 42% of 20-29-year-old men are living at home, neither working nor attending school; up from 27% in 1981 and 32% in 1991. What is this potential work force doing at home, and why are parents allowing it to happen?

Question: Is your child struggling at school?

To Do: Talk with your child’s teacher to see how they are doing academically, and ensure your child is not allowed to game as a reward at school.

  1. Sexual Perversions

42% of children have viewed pornography by age ten. Early exposure to porn is linked to hypersexualized behaviors including early entry into sex, sexting (sending sexualized messages and photo’s), high risk sex, and sexual violence. What studies fail to include in their data is that all video games rated Mature contain graphic sexual content and sexualized violence. One of the major “enhancements” in Grand Theft Auto 5 is that the player can not only rape and kill women, but they’ve now added torture scenes. It is imperative that parents investigate and continuously monitor what their child is watching/playing on their device. Children are curious about sex, and while it’s natural to ask questions and want to know more about sex, there is nothing natural about what children are readily viewing on the internet. The dark web is now easily accessible and contains slasher videos and extremely violent porn. In 2017 the UK reported a rise of 71% of sexual assaults by children on children over the past 4 years which they attributed to internet porn.  Utah was the first state to declare pornography is a public health crisis. Again, what children watch is who they become.

Question: Have you asked your child if they are using porn?

 To Do: Watch what video games your child is using or ask them and look up rating on Common Sense Media; remove access to all sexualized content. 

  1. Mass Killings

Some (but not many) parents I talk to who have children with problematic gaming issues, tell me their child has threatened the parent or themselves with harm should they proceed with video game restrictions. When a child threatens harm to self or others, they are clearly in trouble and not in control of themselves or their actions. If a parent feels threatened when trying to implement video game restrictions, then it is imperative they seek assistance from a medical professional e.g. physician, psychiatrist or psychologist. While most shooters are gamers (14 mass murders are linked to violent video games), this does not mean most gamers will become shooters. What parents, teachers, clinicians, and government can do to prevent mass killers is stop letting children under the age of 12 be exposed to violent media content. Student education regarding impact of violent media content by trained teachers in schools is paramount, as is parent education by counsellors and clinicians (RN’s, Dr.’s, therapists, psychologists). Government should legislate video game industry to include clear warnings on all video games referencing harmful effects of video games on children. Parents spending more time with their children and less time on screens will improve child mental health and lessen problematic behaviors and acts of violence.

Question: Are you scared of your child?

To Do: Have your child urgently assessed by a medical professional e.g. physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist. Engage in more healthy activities as a family. Listen to your child’s concerns and stories, don’t talk and lecture.

This article was written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker, and advocate for children. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca. 

Additional Information 

Zone’in Website profiles programs, workshops/webinars, training, and consultation services.
Zone’in Research Fact Sheet 300 research references on detrimental impact of technology on children.
Technology Impact Educational Videos on physical, mental, social, and cognitive domains.
Cris Rowan Videos on EdTech, Critical Factors for Growth/Success, Balanced Technology Management.
Child Development Series Newsletter monthly free newsletter with collated research and news.
Moving to Learn Blog research referenced articles by Cris Rowan with over 1000 hits per day.
Virtual Child Book available on Amazon in English, Chinese and Spanish versions.
Ten reasons to ban handheld devices for children under 12 years of age Huffington Post 2.6 million likes.
Suffer the Children – 4 min. slideshow profiles problems associated with tech overuse by children.
Balanced Technology Management – 7 min. slideshow profiles solutions in six sectors: parents, educators, health professionals, government, researchers, and technology corporations.

Support Programs

Tech Tool Kit manual of tools and strategies for families to balance technology with healthy activity.
Unplug’in Game board game to build skills and confidence in activities alternate to technology.
Tech Talks for Families webinar series; 10 sessions/10 weeks/10 hours. Includes Tech Tool Kit.
Tech Talks for Therapists and Teachers webinar series; 5 sessions/5 hours. Includes Tech Tool Kit.
Consultation Services for parents, teachers, health professionals, government, researchers, and technology production corporations.