Kevlar for Teachers – The role of violent media in escalating student violence in schools.

Over the past year I’ve assessed ~ 100 elementary and high school students with most frequent reasons for referrals being poor self-regulation, aggression, and inability to pay attention (in that order). While I pride myself on being “fun” and generally well liked by students, I also have been increasingly kicked, pinched, punched, spit on, and sworn at on more than one occasion. It’s not unusual for students to ignore, defy, or refuse requests to work with me, and completion of requested tasks frequently require excessive coaxing, cajoling and even pleading. These aggressive and defiant acts by students are new for me and have been increasing markedly over the past 2-3 years. Concurrent with escalating violence and defiance by students is increasing reports of use of violent media content at a younger and younger age. Many of my grade K, 1 and 2 referred students report use of Mature rated video games including Call of Duty, Black Ops and Fortnite. With teachers reporting increasing incidents of student violence reaching a level where protective gear is now required in many districts, schools might consider educating students and parents regarding reduction and/or elimination of violent media content.

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.

I’m not alone in my observations about aggressive and defiant students as evidenced by the number of emails from teachers and principals piling up referencing problematic and violent behaviors in students. Just this week a grade 2-3 teacher in Ontario states “I have become increasingly dismayed the past four years with the prevalence of violent video games in the student population of this age; the students are less and less able to focus, take direction from adults, and get along with each other; needless to say, my job as a teacher is becoming increasingly difficult”. In July 2018 the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) released a study with teachers from Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. self-reporting about their experiences with violence in the classroom. The study found that between 41 and 90 per cent of surveyed teachers, depending on the jurisdiction, had experienced or witnessed violence directed toward teachers from students or parents. Violence was classified as everything from verbal harassment and swearing, to physical threats and assault. Sherri Brown, director of research and professional learning at the CTF, described the current state as an “escalating crisis.” Verbal threats, physical assault and incidents involving weapons were among the most frequently reported, according to Brown. Fast forward to this year where the number of violent incidents reported by educators with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has doubled in the past three years, from 2,713 in 2016-2017 to 5,430 between September 2018 and May 2019. Last school year in the Waterloo Region District School Board there were approximately 1,300 incidents involving elementary student-on-teacher violence, up from around 900 the previous year.

Teachers throughout Canadian schools are now feeling the need to wear Kevlar clothing to protect themselves due to this growing trend of violence in classrooms. “We’re (dealing with) everything to biting to kicking and punching,” said Jeff Pelich, the vice president of the local chapter of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO). “Between our teachers and educational assistants, and child and youth workers, many of them are now required to wear Kevlar, to wear full vests to protect themselves from punches and kicks.” Kevlar clothing can include, vests, arm or leg sleeves. The Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) said its staff may wear protective equipment as needed, and all staff are required to complete a range of health and safety-related training annually. Sylvain Lamirande, an elementary teacher in the Upper Canada District School Board (UCDSB), said protective gear, including padded jackets and “spit masks,” has become “standard issue” for educational assistants. “I mean, the fact that we’re using Kevlar in the classroom seems to me that something needs to be done.” Educators are reluctant to report incidents of violence by students for “fear of repercussions,” Brown said. Results from ETFO’s members showed only 22 per cent of teachers said they would report cases of verbal or physical violence, and less than a quarter said steps were taken to prevent future incidents. David Mastin, ETFO’s Durham local president, says his region is losing teachers within their first five years on the job.

In spring of 2018 Ontario’s former Liberal government released the Workplace Violence in School Boards: A Guide to the Law to help schools develop workplace violence policies. At the time, the province also pledged to fund an online reporting tool to simplify the process. Some Ontario schools and boards are encouraging educators to take Nonviolent Crisis Intervention training, a de-escalation program, run by the Milwaukee-based Crisis Prevention Institute. The training can range from a one-day classroom seminar to four days to become certified to teach it. Trainees learn how to calm a child in the midst of a crisis by detecting signs of anxiety and anger, and how to respond to a physical altercation, including how to safely hold a child. “I really don’t believe half a day or a day is enough,” said Terri-Lynn Platt, health and safety coordinator with the Elementary Teachers of Toronto. “It can become very violent, very quickly.” The training stresses that physical intervention should only be used if the child is in “imminent danger,” Platt said. Regardless of that caveat, teachers and unions remain leery of the program. Platt argued that whoever takes the training ends up becoming the school’s defacto crisis person. “I will tell teachers it is wise not to have that training.”

The CTF study indicates that causal factors associated with escalating violence by students in Canadian schools are varied but indicate increased class size, insufficient student support, poor problem-solving skills, low socio-economic status, special needs and poor mental health may all be contributing factors. What is not mentioned in any of these articles is rising levels of exposure to physical and sexualized violent media content. While teachers are quick to point out that media content is a parental issue, many schools allow students to bring their own devices and access to violent media content during the school day. A teacher clearly cannot supervise nor restrict student access to violent media content on 25-30 individual devices, especially when many students are refusing to do school work. Violent video games, pornography, social media and cyberbullying are routinely used media content by students in schools who allow personal devices; connecting the dots between violent content and aggressive behavior is unfortunately not readily recognized by educators. Expelling students who exhibit violent and defiant behaviors associated with exposure to violent media content results in short-term gain and long term pain as student will just game unsupervised at home. As schools increase data collection regarding violent incidents by students, logical next steps would be as follows:

  1. Data Intake: perform Technology Usage Questionnaires with students to help identify and quantify exposure to violent media content, duration, and age of first use and then subsequently uncover possible correlation to violence and aggression episodes.
  1. Student Education: explain sedentary yet overstimulating effects on body which include high blood pressure when gaming, brain pruning to front lobes and effects of brain pruning on ability to pay attention and learn, progression toward gaming addiction. Enlist school counselling services.
  1. Classroom Tech Talks: discuss how much and what type of screen use students are doing, discuss importance of sleep, identify alternate activities to gaming, give the Survivor Unplug Challenge e.g. “Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go 24 hours without screens”.
  1. School Screenbuster Program: train grade 6/7 students to do Classroom Tech Talks and weekly 15 min. follow-up sessions (Balanced Technology Management Teacher Training Certification available Sept. 2019).
  1. Parent Education: train teachers/counsellors to provide initial education session and then monthly parent Tech Talks (Balanced Technology Management Teacher Training Certification available Sept. 2019).
  1. Parent Meetings: enlist parents to understand their role/job as a parent; try to get family to do a 24 hour unplug; if they can’t, try to arrange family counselling. Student violence is not a student issue, but rather reflective of significant neglect, abuse or trauma issues at home.

Additional Reading:

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

This article was written by pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker, and author Cris Rowan who is passionate about changing the ways in which children use technology. Cris’s website www.zonein.ca, blog www.movingtolearn.ca, and book www.virtualchild.ca can be referenced for additional information. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca.

Where Do the Children Play? What happens when our kid’s only childhood memory is a screen?

One of our jobs as parents is to create childhood memories that will sustain them through their lifetime; memories that will be told around the camp fire, at weddings, and even at funerals. Memories so beautiful and heart felt they make us smile, laugh, and cry. Lyrics from a Cat Stevens song illustrate real concerns regarding preserving childhood and play spaces “We’ve come a long way, we’re changing day to day, but tell me where do the children play?” In the rush to digitalize childhood, society seems to have forgotten critical essential components needed to create a sustainable child. Play spaces where children can run, yell, and be free to imagine other worlds are rapidly deteriorating without so much as a backward glance. Tall swings, long slides and merry-go-rounds were standard equipment in playgrounds of the past, and Toys “R” Us was a birthday and Christmas must. Children use to “play out” until dark and get into adventurous mischief because parents weren’t monitoring their every move. Students either biked or walked to school and participated in a vast diversity of after school sports and club activities. Recesses were long and PE teachers ensured they were packed with loads of gym, playground and game-type activities. Children seemed happy…only a 20 years ago, they seemed secure, well adjusted, and on their way to becoming independent adults with bright futures, and – happy memories to sustain them through the tough times. Fast forward to today. Toys “R” Us went belly up after 70 years of providing kids with thrilling toys. Playgrounds are infantile and dilapidated with licencing forced removal of everything fun or challenging. Streets and parks are quiet and deserted. As epidemic levels of obesity climb, kids are dropped off at school where No Child Left Behind initiatives have eliminated PE and decimated recess. When students are allowed recess, they spend their time on mandated BYOD screens…sedentary, inside, alone, and sad. With the onset of video games and social media has come pervasive and escalating child behavior management issues including aggression, depression, anxiety and suicide. As outdoor rough and tumble imaginative play rapidly becomes a thing of the past, society might be wise to consider the following nature and movement-based initiatives to enhance child development, behavior and learning.

While parents have known for decades that nature offers serious benefits to our physical and mental health, the move from active outdoor play to passive and sedentary indoor screen watching has been pervasive and rapid. Citing ‘fear’ as a primary motivator, parents universally agree that outside is “not safe” and consequently keep their children inside. What is odd is the general acceptance by parents that online sites are ‘safe’ even with the alarming rise in online pedophile presence. Studies abound showing that nature’s ‘green space’ is the most attention restorative agent available to teacher to enhance learning, yet many students are kept inside during recess to finish work or as a disciplinary measure, or even worse, allowed to stay inside the classroom and gaze absently at their phones or watch movies. The downside of keeping kids sedentary, isolated and indoors is taking a heavy toll on our children. UBC’s Healthy Early Intervention Partnership study of 47,000 preschool children in 2016 showed 1 in 3 children enter school developmentally delayed, 1 in 3 are obese or overweight (Stats Canada), and 1 in 7 children and youth have a diagnosed mental illness (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2016). While our children have never been sicker than they are today, we can reverse this destructive trend through improved engagement in outdoor play by focusing on the following evidence based school, home and community initiatives.

  1. Allow 3-4 recess breaks/day for research proven improved attention and learning, better grades, decreased need for movement ‘body breaks’ in classroom, decreased problematic behaviors and improved self-regulation. CBC interview (7:30 min) with principal Paul McKay and classroom teacher talk about every hour have a 15 min. break with improved attendance (up 5%), improved grades, happier students, less lethargy and improved classroom participation. Suggest no more than one hour in classroom followed by 15 min. gym or playground break.
  1. Enhance existing playgrounds with age appropriate and challenging equipment. All playground equipment must be anchored in cement with 6-8” of absorbent surfacing to ensure safety (Canadian Standards Association) with coverage of structures for sun, rain, and snow protection. Think in terms of the following age groups each needing devices relevant to their age, inclusively arranged to accommodate people across the life span:
  1. 0-5 years: infant/toddlers swings, saucer swing for social, slides, extensive trike path, covered sand box, water table, climbing structures.
  2. 6-12 years: merry-go-round, high swings/slide, cargo net structure (Lunar Blast), climbing wall outside building,
  3. 13-18 years: obstacle course equipment,
  4. Teachers and parents: cardio stepper, large covered fire pit with surround seating.
  5. Elders: benches, picnic tables, covered areas.
  1. Start each day outside with school ‘tough mudder’ run or inside in gym with obstacle course and loud music; do one class per day outside.
  1. Consideration given to allowing alternate forms of creative physical play through allowing students to build forts or use a variety of construction type materials and ‘loose parts’ (anything that’s not bolted down).
  1. Reduce rules and increase risk and challenge while also maintaining a safe and congenial play environment. Making playgrounds more dangerous with less parent/teacher intervention and more loose parts promotes creativity and imagination, while also improving independence and self motivation. Consider creation of a rough and tumble play zone for those kids who need more intense play opportunities. No Rules Schools actually improve behavior and enhance learning!
  1. Establish sensory-motor room in schools with inclusion of the following areas: hangout space (couch, carpet, beanbag chairs), chillout space (quiet space behind bookcase with beanbag chair), and workout space (TRX Strapping, slam balls, free weights, exercise bike/rowing machine/elliptical). EA’s could be assigned to this room 2-3 times per day at designated intervals and students sent there to have their sensory and motor needs met (as opposed to being sent to principal’s office).

This article was written by pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker, and author Cris Rowan who is passionate about changing the ways in which children use technology. Cris’s website www.zonein.ca, blog www.movingtolearn.ca, and book www.virtualchild.ca can be referenced for additional information. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca.

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 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

Stop School Mass Shootings? Go after the video game and pharmaceutical industries.

Includes the School Mass Shooter Risk Inventory!

The recent rise in mass school shootings has resulted in a singular focus on the implement of destruction…guns. While gun control requires attention, as well as eventual legislation and regulation, gun control alone will not stop the escalating incidence of mass school shootings. Careful analysis of multiple factors contributing to mass shootings is urgent and long overdue. This article intends to review data showing four commonalities of recent mass shooters, and review research which identifies video games and psychotropic medication as salient determinants in compiling the profile of a mass shooter. This article includes the School Mass Shooter Risk Inventory to provide important data for educators, health professionals and social service personal to quantify risk indicators for school mass shooters. The School Mass Shooter Risk Inventory should be considered as a prevention and intervention tool to improve school safety for staff and students. Only when government assigns responsibility and liability to the video gaming and pharmaceutical industries for school mass shootings, will the incidence of these horrific events begin to abate.

The U.S. has one mass shooting on average every 16 days, with a total of 271 incidents between 2006 and 2017, killing 1358 victims. The following four components are found in all school mass shooters: long term exposure to violent media content, medicated with prescription psychotropics, lonely, and access to guns.

  1. Long term exposure to violent media content with probable addiction.

With the escalating rise in video gaming, extensive research documents concurrent rise in aggression and violence. News reports indicate that all mass shooters are gamers. Extensive research dating back to the 1990’s has clearly documented the causal effect of violent media content on aggression, with the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2009 declaring media violence as a public health risk. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports media violence is causally linked to child aggression stating “Although shootings in schools around the world periodically prompt politicians and the general public to focus their attention on the influence of media violence, the medical community has been concerned with this issue since the 1950s. A 2010 meta-analysis of over 1000 studies on the effects of media violence by Craig Anderson and colleagues, reports statistically significant effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, empathy/desensitization, and antisocial behavior.

A 2016 study by Ohio State researchers concluded that “People who have a steady diet of playing these violent video games may come to see the world as a hostile and violent place.” Brad Bushman, professor of communication and psychology at OSU, continues, “These results suggest there could be a cumulative effect” in making video game players more aggressive and violent over the long term as well as over the short term.

Research literature explains the underlying mechanism linking media violence to aggression, which is termed Game Transfer Phenomena (GTP), defined as a physiological state where gamers retain perceptions and act out behaviours endemic in the game. A 2015 study of 2362 gamers between the ages of 18-22 years by Angelica B Ortiz de Gortari and Mark Griffiths from Nottingham Trent University reported the five areas of ‘real life’ human function that were altered following video game play (excerpted from linked research).

  • Altered visual perception: 77% retained video game imagery with eyes closed; 31% with eyes open.
  • Altered auditory perception: 65% misinterpreted real-life sounds as those coming from a video game.
  • Altered body perception: 29% reported sensation of mind being disconnected from their body.
  • Automatic mental processes: 63% still in mind set of video game following play.
  • Actions and behaviors: 40% acted out behavior and activities influenced by the video game.

90% of video games contain violent content, and 8% of children and youth currently demonstrate an addiction to video games. R. Stickgold et al demonstrated that 7-hour exposure to the video game “Tetras” induced 3 days of visual imagery of falling cubes, even in subjects who had frontal lobe damage and no memory. This fact is striking in not only the permanence of visual imagery, but also the recalling of the visual imagery in the absence of conscious memory. Dr. Andrew Doan, Ophthalmologist and author of “Hooked on Games” reports that the brain is similar to a camera in that it stores visual images, sometimes for years, so parents need to understand that what their children watch will be with them forever.

Aggression acted out as a result of video game immersion is not only of the physical type, but sexual violence as well due to graphic sexual imagery imbedded in gaming. While Statistics Canada reported in June 2017 that overall Canada’s crime rate has decreased by 3%, it’s important to note that violation in child pornography has increased by 41%, sexual violation against children increased by 6%, and youth accused of attempted murder increased by 37%. The viewing of video game pornography by very young children, has born witness to concurrent rise in sexual violence of children against children.

  1. Medicated with prescription psychotropics.

SSRI Stories reports 80% of mass shooters were either taking prescribed psychotropic medication, or withdrawing from same at the time of assault. SSRI Stories is a website dedicated to chronical adverse effects of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (anti-depressants). Constitutional Attorney Jonathan Emord has called for a federal investigation on the link between psychiatric drugs and school shootings. In Canada, one in six children between the ages of 8 and 18 have a diagnosed mental illness, with many on dangerous psychotropic medication (stimulant, sedatives, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, or anti-psychotics). Toxicity psychosis from prescription psychotropic medication is evidenced by suicide and/or violence. Despite the fact that the FDA and Health Canada concur that to date, there are no known biochemical, structural, or genetic cause for mental illness, North America is consumed with what has been termed a “diagnosis and medication mania”. Children aren’t “born sick”, we make them that way through neglect, abuse and trauma. Additionally, lack of movement, touch, human connection, and nature, the four critical elements for healthy development and learning, have resulted in a rise in child obesity, developmental delay, depression, anxiety, aggression, learning disorders, behavior disorders, and hyperactivity. Children are sicker than they have ever been in the history of humankind. Sedentary, isolated, neglected, overstimulated, and medicated, the new millennium child is truly struggling to survive.

On January 22, 2016, a 17-year old boy from La Loche, Saskatchewan in Canada shot 11 people killing four, including two brothers in the shooter’s home, and 7 students and teachers at his school.  The boy was described as a ‘loner and chronic gamer’.  Katherine S. Newman, author of “Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings” reports that the profile of recent mass shooters was not necessarily one of a loner, but rather of a young man who felt ostracized by a group in which he desperately wanted to fit in. The shooters all made attempts to tell their coveted group what they had planned, but were ignored and not taken seriously, escalating their desire to act.

  1. Access to guns.

A popular quote is “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”, yet people without guns, or people with hunting rifles, don’t become mass shooters. That said, presently there is one gun per person in the U.S. and rapid-fire assault rifles are legal in most states. The 21st century is known for its pervasive fear mentality and gun obsessed culture, both of which have proven extremely deadly. While access to guns alone is unlikely to produce a shooter, combine guns with desensitization resulting from excessive exposure to violent media content, a cocktail of psychotropic medications from an early age, along with isolation and decreased socialization, and we are getting closer to the target of a shooter.

The video game and pharmaceutical industries are strong and formidable forces, which explains some of the dilemma and delay in legislation regarding restriction of video games and psychotropic medications with by children. The problem of mass shooters is complex, and will not be resolved quickly or easily with gun control measures alone. All systems including government, law enforcement, education, health care, and social services industries need to work together in enacting preventative measures to reduce previously mentioned risk indicators for school mass shooters, as well as intervene immediately to identify who is at risk for becoming a mass school shooter to provide necessary assistance and therapy.

Improving student and staff safety in schools requires a preventative approach be enacted immediately. Effectively analyzing potential shooter risk through assessing the following who, what, when, where, why and how risk indicators on the School Mass Shooter Risk Inventory, could act as a first step toward preventing future school mass shootings.  The School Mass Shooter Risk Inventory was designed by Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist and biologist and expert on the impact of technology on children. Cris works daily with children and youth who overuse technology, and has compiled a comprehensive research referenced Fact Sheet available on her website www.zonein.ca. Cris speaks internationally on the subject of impact of technology on children, and authored “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children” book.

Click here to download and Print School Mass Shooter Risk Inventory (SMSRI)

Click here to download and Print School Mass Shooter Risk Inventory (SMSRI)