When did we decide that kids shouldn’t move?

School initiatives to enhance child development, behavior and learning.

Grab a device and you sit. Put it down and you get up and move around. Devices are increasingly being used as a socially acceptable form of child restraint in both home and school settings. Stopping a child from moving by handing them a device may prove convenient for the adult, but only in the short term. Children’s bodies and brains are designed to require movement in order to develop and grow. The long term consequences of early sedentary lifestyles are catastrophic, as evidenced now by epidemic levels of child obesity, sleep deprivation, and mental illness. With children moving less and less at home, the pressure is now on schools to provide more opportunities for classroom, gym and playground movement. This article provides background information on the benefits of movement for child growth and success, and offers schools a variety of tools and strategies to ensure sustainable futures for all children. Give kids the edge they need to succeed. Let them move.

Engaging in various forms of movement are research proven initiatives that optimize development, improve behavior, restore attention, and enhance learning in children (Ratey, 2008). Yet today’s technology obsessed children and youth are simply not moving enough, impacting negatively on not only their physical and mental health, but also on their ability to pay attention, learn, and achieve printing and reading literacy at school. While the cardiovascular impact of movement on reducing child obesity, diabetes, heart attack and stroke are well known, there are two other benefits of movement which improve literacy and learning which can be easily employed in education settings. These two types of movement build strong core and motor coordination impacting on improved printing, reading, and sports, as well as stimulate change in body energy states, enabling improved attention and learning.

Vestibular systemThe vestibular system is a series of 3 fluid filled canals located on each side of the brain, and is activated with ‘off centre’ movement, such as rocking, jumping, side to side, or rotational movements. When a student’s body is off centre, the vestibular system sends messages to stabilizer muscle groups to activate, bring body back to centre, and thus strengthening core. As core stability precedes motor coordination of right to left, upper body to lower body, eye to hand, and eye to eye, off centre movement is essential for motor coordination needed for printing and reading literacy, as well as sports. Stimulation to the vestibular system also increases brain arousal enabling learning to take place, which is necessary for students who stay up doing sedentary activities such as watching TV or playing video games. In the classroom, teachers can help students ‘wake up’ their energy state by providing vestibular stimulation in the form of Hokki Chairs, wobble or balance boards, or running in place. In the gym and on the playground, equipment that allows off centre movement would be suspended devices that swing and/or rotate, slides, balance devices (different height rounds of wood, half buried tires), bouncy castles, or spinning discs or saucers.

Proprioceptive systemThe proprioceptive system is activated with movement requiring resistance, also termed “heavy work”, such as pushing, pulling, lifting or carrying. 50 years ago children often were required to help with chores which not only provided a sense of belonging and importance, but also loaded their muscles and joints with resistance, resulting in an ‘energy dump’. Just as adults might go to the gym or dig in the garden to feel calm and relaxed, children also need to tax their proprioceptive system to release energy and get in the zone to learn, possibly even more so than adults. The body is energy, and when energy is restrained by being sedentary, while also being overstimulated by fast paced and violent media content, the body’s energy is imbalanced which can look like hyperactivity and/or aggression, or look like low arousal and/or boredom. In the classroom, teachers can help children balance their energy states by providing proprioceptive energy dumps in the form of slam balls, TRX Training Strapping, or exercises such as ‘plank’, push-ups, or tug-of-war. In the gym and on the playground, equipment that challenges and loads muscles would be climbing frames/walls, hanging bars or rings, jungle gyms, or obstacle course pylo blocks.

Following are a list of types of techniques and equipment which activate the vestibular and proprioceptive systems, which can be performed in classroom, gym or outdoor playground type settings to enhance child development, attention, and learning. For optimal attention, suggest allowing students 5 minutes of strenuous activity every 30 minutes to get their body energy in the zone to learn, prior to classroom instruction. More than 5 minutes may cause classroom chaos; less than 5 minutes is insufficient movement activity to attain benefit. Children and youth who are physically active in gym and on playgrounds, are less likely to have behavioral issues including meltdowns, tantrums, and aggression if allowed at least three 20 minute sessions per day. Secondary schools might consider a 45 minute session on treadmills, elliptical machines, or exercise bikes prior to starting the day. Technology overuse of TV, cell phones, and internet over 2 hours per day is proven to be causally linked to obesity, developmental delay, depression, anxiety, agitation, aggression, distractibility and inattention, and should be restricted for children and youth with attention and learning difficulties. Teachers might consider weekly Tech Talks for students where information is provided and discussion facilitated regarding technology overuse and addiction. Informational Fact Sheet, videos and resources can be located on Zone’in Programs Inc. website www.zonein.ca.

  1. Hokki Chairs (jmcdesigninteriors.com), “T” chairs (2” X 4”’s nailed together in a “T” shape), or therapy balls.
  2. Suspension training with TRX equipment (trxtraining.com).
  3. Calisthenics or yoga on gym mat on floor e.g. sit-ups, plank.
  4. Lye on floor facing partner, and blow/suck on straw to push ping pong balls across masking tape line, scoring “goal” when cross line.
  5. Tug of War using 4’ piece of rope with knot each end; excellent activity for students who are fighting; called a “Tug Off”.
  6. Volleyball with Nerf ball; use line of desks for “net”.
  7. Play games such as jumping jacks, running in place, Tour de France (using two desks for support, lift feet off ground and pedal in air), or ball over/under pass; could be played as competing teams.
  8. Work in standing – on chalkboards, easels, or at raised counter; can fabricate counter using plywood covered with counter surfacing (plastic, vinyl). Desks and tables restrict movement, and therefore limit learning.
  9. Chin-ups using either wall mount or door frame bar.
  10. Hand, desk, counter, chair, floor, or wall pushes.
  11. Work lying on floor propped on elbows.
  12. Fencing with foam noodles (usually used for swimming floatation).
  13. Wobble or balance boards.
  14. Bicep curls using old bicycle tubes; anchor with feet or place around desk legs.
  15. Climbing rope with knots every 1’ attached to ceiling mount.
  16. Exercise bike, elliptical, rowing or treadmill machine in corner of room; try garage sales or newsletter request to parents.
  17. Barstarzz training (barstarzz.com).
  18. Swing bar positioned under desk (dowel suspended with chain from desk).

Moving to Learn Equipment List

for Classrooms, Gym and Playground

Equipment Picture Supplier Quantity Cost Total
Hokki Chair 12”  Hokki Chair Jonathan Morgan Co. jmcdesigninteriors.com $119.62
Hokki Chair 15” $124.43
Hokki Chair 18” $138.26
Wobble Boards
36 cm
 Wobble board Fitness Depot
Chin Up Bar
(wall mount)
 Chin Up Bar $69.99
Ankle Weights 2.5 lb  Ankle weights 2.5 $9.88
Ankle Weights 5.0 lb  Ankle weights 5.0 $13.88
Slam Ball 12 lb  Slam ball $19.88
Slam Ball 15 lb $22.88
Slam Ball 17 lb $25.88
Slam Ball 20 lb $27.88
Total Classroom Equipment $


Equipment Picture Supplier Quantity Cost Total
Arousing Equipment (vestibular stimulation)
Climbing SwRing  Climbing swing SwRing
TheraGym Square Platform Swing  TheraGym Flaghouse
Airwalker Lycra Pod Swing  Airwalker School Specialty
Climbing Rope  Climbing rope Fitness Depot $118
Hanging Chain
(1000 lb strength)
Chain lengths should be measured from top of device to mount bar, doubled, add 6” for double wrap around mount bar. Local hardware store 1 per suspended device
Safety Rotational Device Hanging Accessory
(needed for 3 swinging devices)
 Safety device School Specialty
1 per suspended device $123.29
Carabiners – Lg,
(1000 lb strength, screw lock closure)
 Carabina Local hardware store 2 per suspended device
Rings with straps  Rings Fitness Depot $38.00
TRX Home Kit  TRK home kit Fitness Depot $178.95
TRX Mount  TRX mount Fitness Depot 1 per TRX strapping $39.99
Agility Ladder


 Agility ladder School Specialty #1441294 4/pkg $91.19
Stability Pads (for obstacle course)  Stability pads School Specialty #025430 6/pkg $136.99
Go Go Balance Fun
(for obstacle course)
 Go Go balance Scholars Choice

Gonge Top Balance Disc  Gonge top School Specialty
Balance Beam  Balance beam School Specialty
Grounding Equipment (proprioceptive stimulation)
Climbing Scaler  Climbing scaler Flaghouse
1 $1607.50
Climbing Wall  climbing wall 2 School Specialty
1 $465.69
Scooter Boards
Pull Boy 16”
 Scooter School Specialty #1450035 6/pkg $446.69
Paddles (for scooter boards) School Specialty #1282645 6/pkg $83.59
Connecting Tunnel Set (for scooter boards)  Tunnel set School Specialty
6/pkg – get at least 2 for challenging obstacle course $320.49
Scooter Board Ramp
(vestibular, core)
 Scooter ramp School Specialty
Calming Equipment (tactile stimulation)
Body Sox – sm.
age 3-5
 Body sox School Specialty
Body Sox – med.
Age 6-8
School Specialty
Body Sox – large
Age 9-12
School Specialty
Cozy Castle (sensory hideout)  Cozy castle School Specialty
Total Gym                                                                                $


Equipment Picture Supplier Quantity Cost Total
Arousing Equipment (vestibular stimulation) 
Regular Swings  Regular swing Landscape Structures
Disc Swings
(Oodle swing)
 Disc swing Landscape Structures
Flywheel Spinner  Flywheel spinner      
Eliptical  Eliptical      
Merri-go-round  Merri-go-round      
Grounding Equipment (proprioceptive stimulation) 
Rock or wood sculptures  Rock or wood sculptures Build it yourself – or – Landscape Structures
Lunar Blast Net Climber  Net climber Landscape Structures
FitCore Outdoor Exercise Equipment  FitCore Landscape Structures
Cardio Stepper  Cardio stepper Landscape Structures
Obstacle Course  Obstacle course Build it yourself – or –
Suttle Recreation
Barstarzz  Barstarzz Barstarzz
Total Playground Equipment                                                                                   $
GRAND                                                                                       $

Click here to print out the above Zone’in Moving to Learn Equipment List

Prepared by Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi, SIPT, AOTA Approved Provider
CEO Zone’in Programs Inc. and Sunshine Coast Occupational Therapy Inc.
6840 Seaview Rd. Sechelt, BC  V0N3A4, 6048850986 p, 6048850389 f, 6047402264 c crowan@zonein.ca
www.suncoastot.com, www.zonein.ca, www.virtualchild.ca, www.movingtolearn.ca

Sustainable Children – Are they a blast from the past?

Augmented Reality_Flickr

Over the past 30 years, I’ve had the unique opportunity as a pediatric occupational therapist to witness profound changes in children. I used to see kids with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy or Down’s Syndrome, but about 15 years ago the referrals changed to motor delays or sensory processing problems. Today my most frequent referrals are for severe behavior including tantrums and aggression, poor self-regulation, and attention deficit with difficulty learning. 90% of my referrals are for boys, many already diagnosed with adhd and/or autism, and many on stimulant or other mind altering medications. Concomitant with this shift in child behavior was the onset of a variety of new technologies, resulting in a child who is now largely sedentary, overstimulated, sleep deprived, socially isolated, and often neglected. Sometime ago I looked to the research to find out what is the relationship between screens and child development, and what I learned convinced me to make my life’s work one of helping others learn how to balance technology with healthy activity. The ways in which we are raising and educating our children with technology are now longer sustainable. This article profiles my professional experience regarding the pervasive impact of technology on our children’s lives, and proposes a variety of initiatives for parents, teachers and the community at large to work together to ensure sustainable futures for all children.

Over the past three months, I visited 15 schools and universally observed children falling asleep in class, frequent tantrums and meltdowns, limited ability to self-regulate, severe attention deficit, learning difficulties, and asocial and antisocial behavior. To date research shows that one in three children are developmentally delayed, one in three sleep deprived, one in five have a diagnosed mental illness, one in four are obese or overweight, and one in 11 are addicted to technology. I observed that boys were obsessed with video games (it’s all they could talk about) and girls were compulsively texting and Facebooking…often in class. Use of non-research evidenced ‘education technology’ was prevalent in many classrooms including movies and games, as was unrestricted use of ‘entertainment technology’ including video games, porn, Facebooking, and texting. In my teacher workshops on technology management, teachers report they are often pressured by administration to use more technology, as eventually the device will replace textbooks. One teacher reported he did not get a degree to “police” use of cell phones, and has “given up” trying to manage personal devices. A principal reported that after a teacher removed his cell phone in class, he went to the office to phone 911 to report his “rights” were infringed upon.

In my classroom Tech Talks with students, many of the boys were unable to identify any other activity than entertainment technology – predominantly video games, and girls reported their biggest worry was centred around creating the perfect self-image profile. When asked what video games the boys like to play, many reported Halo and Call of Duty, both with > 18 year ratings (many gamers were as young as grade two). One boy who reported he was “obsessed” with killing zombies in Halo, reported the reason he threw a rock at a passing truck breaking the window was because “I thought I saw zombies inside”. With one boy I used a variety of movement and nature techniques to essentially ‘remove’ this imagery so he could pay attention and learn, and after two hours, this student finally said to me “I think they’re gone now”. Kids as young as grade two reported they had been approached by a potential predator online yet had not told their parents. Despite the age of the child, when asked how many children are allowed devices in their bedrooms, approximately 75% raised their hands. When discussing technology overuse and addiction with grade 9-12 students, half self-identified as have a “problem” with controlling device use.

Are these children we are raising and educating with tech going to grow up healthy and have jobs and partners, or will they end up unemployed, living in their parent’s basement like the 42.3% of 20-29 year olds in Canada currently are doing? The ways in which we are raising and educating children with technology are not sustainable.

Help I am dyingThe brain rewires itself according to the environmental stimuli to which it is exposed. When a child uses a lot of technology, their brain will be wired differently from a child who doesn’t. From birth, the infant’s brain triples in size during the first two years with a proliferation of synaptic connections being formed at a rate of 7000 per second. In addition to this proliferation is a process termed pruning, where the brain prunes neurons that aren’t being used, a process that will essentially reduce the brain’s neuron number by 2/3 upon death at age 80 years. Children who overuse entertainment technology > 4-5 hours per day, exhibit atrophy or death of brain areas located in the frontal lobes, an area of the brain which controls executive functions such as attention, impulse control, memory, understanding consequence to action, and critical thinking. Fast paced media content is literally ‘short circuiting’ our children’s brains, resulting in a child who can no longer pay attention or learn.

As the advertising industry knows so well, visual imagery is a powerful tool to influence young minds because the viewer never “forgets it”. One study showed children can recall visual imagery from video games for up to four days following a gaming episode. The students I worked with who were frequent gamers reported they “gamed” in their heads while at school, with the idea that they would become more proficient gamers when they got home. Termed Game Transfer Phenomena, these young boys were essentially transferring visual and auditory gaming imagery into their real lives, and replaying this imagery in school, home and community settings. Prolific research documents causal relationships between video games and violence, bullying, and attention deficit…all behaviours consistent with observations and reports by parents and teachers today.

So what can parents and teachers do to reverse this increasing trend to overuse technology in homes and schools. Below graphic Building Foundations depicts four critical factors children need to grow and succeed: movement, touch, human connection, and nature. When children receive adequate amounts of motor and sensory input to these systems, they are healthy, can pay attention and learn, have good social relationships, and be able to find work or go to post-secondary education upon high school graduation. Accompanying diagram Virtual Futures depicts how technology use is sedentary, isolating, overstimulating and results in neglect from adults, resulting in a child who is not sustainable, and will not be able to find a job, have meaningful relationships, nor be physically healthy in adulthood.


Parents who set rules regarding technology overuse, have children who use less technology. Recommendations are to remove all technology from the bedrooms out into an area where parents can supervise what content they are using. Below Technology Usage Guidelines were developed to advise parents regarding content and duration for different ages. Device tracking apps may be needed to monitor content and duration, although this becomes another chore at the end of a parent’s long day. Unplugging the router at night and locking it up, is a great strategy to help everyone get a good night’s sleep. Schools are recommended to develop technology management policies in conjunction with the students. A successful strategy is for whole grade to establish Tech Contracts where students commit to following these rules. Media Literacy Programs should be established where students are not only informed regarding the down side of technology, but also contain open forums for discussion. Technology is advancing so rapidly, ongoing interventions are required in order to stay abreast of future issues.

Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth

Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth Aug 2015Reprinted with permission from American Academy of Pediatrics 2002/13/15, Canadian Academy of Pediatrics 2010, Institute for Digital Media and Child Development 2015.

Cris Rowan is a registered pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker, and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”. Additional information can be found on Cris’s website www.zonein.ca including Research Fact Sheet, educational videos, and free monthly newsletter. Articles can be located on Cris’s blog www.movingtolearn.ca. You can contact Cris at info@zonein.ca.

Moral Truths – Virtual society’s shift from moral truths to immoral acts against children

Chalk drawing -  concept of right or wrong

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was quoted as saying “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children”. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I am increasingly concerned about a growing disinterest by adults regarding declines in child health and wellness. What we knew to be true and evidenced based practice for raising, educating, and providing therapy for children seems to have gone by the wayside, replaced now by the ubiquitous technological device. Apps, video games, You Tube, and TV are now guiding our children, not adults, in home, school and even in clinic settings. Responding to a text, posting a picture on Facebook, or sneaking in a bit of porn or video games into the work day has so overtaken today’s adults, that they are scarcely looking at, much less caring for children. How, in just the past decade, has society grown to covet being with their devices more than their children? Sedentary, alone, neglected, and immersed in a virtual world devoid of anything human, we are slowly but surely losing our children to a virtual reality that is anything but moral. Constant exposure to images of violence, sex, defiance, and depravity are changing children…forever. Aggressive, impulsive, tantrums, insolent, and insecure, today’s child is a whole new breed of humanity that is already causing significant management difficulties. Yet the link between what children watch and how they behave, is largely ignored by adults. This article explores the recent trend toward adults giving more and more attention to their devices, and less and less attention to their children. In the absence of parental attention, children default to, and form unhealthy attachments to the device. As adults turn away from long held ‘moral’ beliefs and truths, what increasingly appears to be on the horizon are adult acts which would really be termed by civilized societies as ‘immoral’. This shift from moral truths to immoral acts by our virtual society, is likely to be the downfall of humanity as we once knew it.

George Orwell once said “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it”. As a purveyor of moral truths in my writings and workshops, I am very familiar with the glazed look that comes over people’s eyes when I speak about the detrimental impact of technology on children. It’s as if what I am saying will so disrupt their stressed and busy lives, that they simply can’t process this information. Parent’s, teacher’s and even therapist’s technology devices have been imbedded into their psyches to the extent that the mere mention of more responsible management is akin to asking them to cut off an arm. The facts certainly speak for themselves when assessing the state of health of today’s children. One in three children now enter school developmentally delayed (HELP EDI Mapping 2009/13, Houtrow 2014), and one in four are obese – with one third of these children going on to develop diabetes (CDC 2014). One in six children have a diagnosed mental illness with many on dangerous psychotropic medications (CDC 2014), and one in eleven children are now addicted to technology (Gentile 2011). Over the past 27 years of treating children, I’ve never seen them sicker than they are today. Family technology addictions are now estimated to be problematic in 40% of North American families. Never before in the history of humankind have we witnessed children with addictions, much less whole families. One nation under therapy is going to cost our society dearly, by bankrupting health, education and social governments, but also by destroying the family fabric that has for generations held families together. How have we slid so far down the slippery path of technology addictions, and what can we do about it?

The moral truths our society used to live by when raising and educating children were often passed down by generations of family through religious faith, traditions, and culture. Values were imbedded in daily routines and work ethic was strictly enforced. Families relied on each other to survive, and every child knew that if they didn’t do their chores, their family might not survive. Today, very few children have chores, or any expectations to work at all. Dependence, not independence, is fostered by parents now, as they imbed their own insecurities into their children. Half of North American adults between the ages of 20-30 years of age live with their parents, not working nor attending school. What are these adults doing at home? With the recent onset of handheld, portable devices such as cell phones and tablets, technology usage rates have soared, in adults and in children. Studies show that children now use 10 hours per day of entertainment based technologies, and 40% of adults are using over 11 hours per day. As adults continue to increase their use of technology, a cascade of unfortunate actions are the result, actions that could be termed ‘immoral’. These immoral actions taken by adults against children constitute what we would normally call ‘abuse’ or ‘neglect’, and are causing nothing short of extensive and long term ‘trauma’ to children. The following list of ten immoral actions taken by adults against children, truly reflect the level to which our society has fallen to when it comes to not caring for its most vulnerable.

  1. Diagnosed and Medicated – current trend by parents, schools and therapists are to diagnose and medicate problematic behavior in children. The Center for Disease Control reported in 2014 that 1 in 6 children have a mental illness diagnosis, with 1 in 65 children diagnosed with autism, and 1 in 10 with adhd. While it is a commonly held belief amongst professionals that both autism and adhd are genetic in origin, there is no research to date that has found biomarkers for either of these disorders. When children with autism and adhd diagnoses both improve with reduction of screen time, continuing to diagnose and medicate these children does indeed appear immoral. Efforts toward supporting family technology unplug’s would likely be a more cost effective and efficient means of treating these problematic child behaviors, than diagnosing and medicating them.
  2. 24/7 Irradiated – in 2011 the World Health Organization categorized wireless radiation from technology devices as a Group 2B (possible) carcinogen. This move by the WHO has not stopped the escalation of usage of devices which emit wireless radiation in daycares, pre-schools, schools, therapy clinics, parks, recreations centers, and physician offices. When there is mounting research showing harmful effects of wireless radiation in adults, should we not be acting with caution concerning children? Young children have thinner skulls, more aqueous bodies and brains, and higher cell turnover, indicating they receive higher penetration of radiation from wireless devices. Acting with caution by reverting to Ethernet cabled wired devices in homes, schools, and community is both urgent and imperative. Homes, schools, and therapy clinics with wireless radiation, are using children as guinea pigs, which is unethical, immoral, and most certainly reprehensible.
  3. Nature Deficit – over the past two decades, children have gone from spending 75% of their time indoors to 95%. When a child is deprived of the calming and sensory soothing aspects of nature, and instead is kept sedentary, restrained in a dark room bombarded with fast paced and brightly colored pixels, it’s not good for their body or brain. Children were designed to move to optimize their development, behavior and learning. Nature not only promotes play and movement, but is known to be the most attention restorative agent we have to promote learning. Nature’s effects serve to counteract the overstimulating and hyper-arousing aspects of technology. Yet, many children are kept indoors. Why would we do this? Safety is often touted by parents as the reason many children are kept inside, but often it’s the parents who want to stay inside, and therefore encourage and provide their children with devices to keep them quiet. Children have a right to be out in nature, and parents who deprive them of the outdoors are acting out of concern for their own self-interests, not their children’s, which is immoral.
  4. Sedentary – children are designed to move, and stimulation to their vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile systems promote development of core stability, strength, and coordination, all necessary for attainment of printing and reading literacy in school. Movement also enhances the cardiovascular system, important for prevention of obesity and diabetes, and consequently prevention of early heart attack and stroke. Hand a child a device, and they sit still; take the device away, and they move. All technology use by young children is detrimental to their development and should be restricted, as should use of strollers, bucket seats, and back packs. Children are not luggage to be carried – they should be running around and engaging in rough and tumble play, not sitting for hours in front of a TV. In 2011 the New England Journal of Medicine said we are witnessing the first generation of children many of whom will not outlive their parents, due to effects of sedentary lifestyles. Handing a child a device to keep them still, so parents, teachers and therapists can use their own personal devices, is immoral.
  5. Touch Deficit – children who are touched with lots of hugs, cuddles, and rough and tumble play, receive adequate stimulation to the mechanoreceptors in the tactile system resulting in activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and reduction in cortisol and adrenalin. These children who are touched a lot are consequently calm, secure, and relaxed in body and spirit. Children who are not touched enough are in perpetual sympathetic nervous system charge (fright, flight, fight) with bodies in high states of cortisol and adrenalin. These touch deficit children are consequently anxious, agitated, insecure, and fearful. Putting infants in bucket seats in front of the TV, and toddlers and children in strollers or on the couch with tablets, deprive these children of life sustaining touch. Technology is now the soother, not the touch of their parents, yet device use in young children is doing anything but soothing these children. Living in a virtual world is entertaining, alluring and exciting, as the child is able to control and satiate their every need. When the child is unplugged and required to revert to boring reality where they have to entertain themselves and have little control over their environments, tantrums are the unfortunate result. Using technology as a soother, and depriving a child of touch, creates more problems for the child and parents than it solves, and consequently is immoral.
  6. Asocial – technology use deters and prevents socialization, without which, we know children don’t survive. Everyone understands that children who receive minimal human contact die. We’ve known this from the 1940’s orphanage studies, yet repeatedly and for long durations adults place children as young as 6 months of age in front of bright lights and moving images to keep them entertained. Research indicates that a critical period for socialization in humans is from 6-12 months, exactly when many babies are placed in front of the seemingly harmless TV. Depriving an infant from social contact with caregivers and siblings is a recipe for early signs of autism, a social disorder. When we know that social skills are imperative for not only school success, but also success in vocational spheres, why would parents, teachers and therapists not be promoting socialization whenever possible? To deprive a child of social contact is a death sentence, and certainly is immoral.
  7. Violent – early exposure to pornography and video games is resulting in child expression of sexual and physical violence against other children and adults, as young as 3 years of age. By age 10 years, 42% of children are active users of pornography. Most video games contain pornographic and violent imagery, which leads to dehumanization and victimization, degradation of women, aggression, and ultimately what we have now, a murder and rape culture. As usage rates of porn and video games climb, unfortunately so does the addiction, as the immersion grows ever more pleasurable and intense. With addition comes tolerance, and a need to jack up the stimulus in frequency, duration, and/or intensity (depravity, perversion). The demand for porn is causing a sharp spike in the supply of prostitutes through Trafficking in Persons, which is now a ‘profession’ more lucrative than the gun trade. The immorality contained in porn and video games is incredible and deplorable. When a player can not only rape and torture, but also kill a woman while seeing their own hands on the victim’s body, and that player is 5 years of age, what type of humanity are we creating? Allowing children to view and play video games and watch pornography is beyond immoral.
  8. Attention Deficit, Impulsive – technology operates at ever increasing rocket speed, which surprisingly requires very little frontal lobe function to complete required tasks. The unfortunate result of not using the higher brain areas, is pruning of neuronal tracks to the frontal lobes, resulting in atrophy or death. As the frontal lobes are known for executive functions such as impulse control, knowing consequence to actions, seeing the big picture, memory, attention, concentration, learning, and judgement, losing the frontal lobes is not good. The de-evolution of the human species has truly begun, as witnessed by increasing problems with impulsivity, poor self-regulation, attention deficit, digital dementia, learning disorders, just to name a few, in both children and adults. Termed The Learning Paradox, the more you use technology the less likely your child is to learn, is not the message touted by baby TV and child ‘educational technology’ production companies. Allowing our children who have autism, adhd, or behavior problems in homes, schools, and clinic settings to use unrestricted technology, is nothing short of immoral.
  9. Isolated, Neglected – humans are pack animals, and are not meant to survive on their own. Sitting alone in a dark room with no obligations or demands, does very little toward building self-esteem and self-reliance. Many children develop only one skill these days, how to operate a device, and are sorely lacking in diversity of skills and confidence when out on the play field. The degradation of the family fabric, the values and traditions of interdependence which hold families together, have been severely eroded with technology overuse. Everyone has their own devices often in separate rooms, and even if they are in the same room, they are alone together. Whether a parent, teacher or therapist, we all have at some point put children on devices to assuage our own guilt about technology overuse and addictions. On numerous occasions I’ve seen whole classes of children on tablets watching a movie, playing video games, or doing “internet research” while the teacher sits at his/her desk on their own personal device. Therapists are increasingly putting children on non-evidence based video games and apps, under the guise of improving visual motor or spatial skills, and then picking up their cell phones. This practice is immoral, and simply has to stop.
  10. Illiterate – half of Canadian grade 8’s don’t have job entry literacy. Canada was ranked 13th and the U.S. 27th in the world on the 2012 PISA scores, an international test which measures science, math, and reading skill. Schools are passing children from grade to grade without the student having to accomplish any real work, resulting in growing defiance as the child falls more and more behind. Many teachers have quit teaching printing, as they think the proverbial device will do it all, even though most graded output is still produced with a pencil. The result is slow and laborious printing output speeds as the child struggles to figure out how to print themselves. In workshops, I tell teachers this practice is akin to me asking them to print mirror image, or in Chinese characters, without any instruction, and then me grading them on their quality and quantity of output. If all of the brain is tasked with is how to print e.g. where to start, which way to turn, when to stop, then there isn’t much brain left to spell, form sentences, or complete paragraphs. Children who can’t print are illiterate. Teachers who don’t teach children how to print are short sighted and this practice is also immoral.

Upton Sinclair once said: “It is difficult to get a man [or woman] to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” Whether a parent, teacher or therapist, we need to look up from the device, stop thinking in our own best interests, and address the needs of our children. Thinking a device can replace the flesh and blood human is short sighted, erroneous, and not in the best interests of children. Reflecting back upon known and historically practiced moral truths and beliefs, is an exercise well worth taking when planning futures for today’s technology obsessed children. Realizing immoral acts, and correcting them, is a place to start on this difficult journey of unplugging from technology. The ways in which the new virtual society is raising and educating children with technology are truly not sustainable.

Research references can be located on Zone’in Fact Sheet www.zonein.ca under Info section.

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, speaker and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca or 1-888-8zonein (896-6346).

Additional information can be found on website www.zonein.ca, blog www.movingtolearn.ca, book www.virtualchild.ca, and Fact Sheet www.zonein.ca Info section.

Learning Paradox – The more kids use technology, the less likely they are to learn

learning paradox image 800 x 367 V2Please refer to the Fact Sheet located on the Zone’In website www.zonein.ca for research references.

Today’s education systems are globally embarking on an experiment of epic proportion – the prolific use of computers to educate children. Without long term, replicated research data to support the use of computers as effective teaching tools, school administrations blindly move forward with imposing universal computer use. Without knowledge regarding safety from electromagnetic radiation, and with knowledge showing declining literacy and academic success, schools continue to promote prevalent use of computers in learning environments. While the promise of technology in education is profound, the perils are largely ignored, and could prove to be detrimental to children in the long term. The phenomenon of “tech centric” education proliferates education systems, yet little attention is given to the glaring question “In the absence of the teacher, can a child learn”? This article by pediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan, explores the perils associated with universal use of technology as a teaching tool, and proposes the “Learning Paradox” – the more technology a child uses, the less likely they are to learn. This article also includes a ten step plan for schools to optimize attention and learning termed “The Learning Quotient”.

With literacy rates plummeting (PISA 2014), classroom management unmanageable (BC teachers strike 2014), one in six students diagnosed with mental illness (Waddell 2007), one in eleven addicted to technology (Gentile 2011), and one in three entering school developmentally delayed (HELP EDI Mapping 2009/13, Hutrow 2014)), schools are struggling to provide adequate education to many students. As governments pull tighter on the purse strings, schools are forced to employ short term measures as cost savings. Elimination of teachers and support staff, increased classroom numbers, reduction of recess, and dilapidation of playgrounds are just a few of the hurdles schools face when trying to meet budget demands. While understandable that school administrations turn to technology as a cost effective way to instruct children, this decision lacks research evidence, and could prove to be harmful to some, if not many, students. The “tech illusion” that computers can actually teach children, has caused many teachers to turn away from evidence based, tried and true teaching methods, especially for printing, reading and math. Canada fell out of the top 10 in global rankings for academic performance on the PISA in 2013, and the U.S., who spends more per capita on education than any other nation in the world, is ranked 25th. It becomes all too clear that technology is not the scholastic pie in the sky that educators dreamed it would be, and the time to face this fact is now. So how do we peer through these muddied waters, and focus on techniques to provide the best education possible for today’s students? An understanding of how technology has changed the human brain already, and implementation of strategies to counteract and repair this damage, is essential and urgent.

Children use an average of 7.5 hours per day of entertainment technologies (Kaiser Foundation 2010), yet experts recommend one quarter that amount (APA 2002/13, CPS 2010). Early studies show that associated with excessive video gaming by youth (> 4-5 hours per day), the brain is pruning neuronal tracks to the frontal cortex, resulting in atrophy (shrinking) of both grey and white matter areas in frontal lobes (Drunkley 2014). Termed “digital dementia”, these youth are demonstrating significant cognitive impairment affecting even the most simple of aspects of daily functioning e.g. remembering bank codes, phone numbers (Sana 2013). Studies also show that for every hour of entertainment technology usage, their risk of attention deficit increases by 10% (Christakis 2007). Fast paced media content, found in many cartoons, You Tube videos, and video games, has been shown to impair executive function, even with low exposure amounts of only 9 minutes (Christakis 2011). These research findings indicate that not all students would benefit from educational technology, and careful consideration should be given toward prohibiting use of entertainment based technologies at school.  Chronic video gamers, or those students who already have adhd or difficulty paying attention, meet criteria for The Learning Paradox – the more technology used, the less likely they are to learn.

Educators would be wise to consider parameters of who, what, when, where, why and how of technology use with students, and realize that while technology may be an effective teaching tool for some students, technology is  not beneficial, and may even be harmful, for others. Regulating and managing technology use in the classroom setting is imperative, essential, and even urgent for many of today’s students. The following ten step plan has been designed by pediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan for school environments to enhance student attention and ability to learn. Supporting research can be located on the Zone’in Fact Sheet www.zonein.ca.

Teachers teach…technology entertains.

The Learning Quotient v2

Additional Reading

British Columbia Knowledge Based Society – A generation of idiots


Digital Dementia – Guidelines for educators regarding technology use in school settings 


Education Technology Displaces Literacy



Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, author, and educator on the impact of technology on child development, behavior and learning, and can be reached at info@zonein.ca. Blog comments can be entered at www.movingtolearn.ca. Research references can be located on the Zone’in Fact Sheet found on www.zonein.ca.


The Last Generation – Are technology and human survival mutually exclusive?

fat-kid-sleeping-couchOver the course of the past 50,000 years, humans have managed to rise to the top of the food chain to dominate all other life forms on planet earth. Until quite recently, humans have successfully functioned as “pack” animals, with each member of the group serving a vital purpose and role. Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theory reigned true, as evolutionary stressors of disease, climate change, and predation made sure that only the strong survive! Movement, touch, human connection, and nature, which have always been considered to be four essential, critical factors for human species survival, were plentiful and abundant. The more physically fit human could run faster, had sharper sensory acuity for hunting and gathering, and had sufficient endurance for hard work and harsh climate conditions. Babies, toddlers and young children spent every moment in the arms of a parent, grandparent or sibling, receiving adequate touch to enable a calm and secure individual. This continuous tactile sensory input optimized the child’s development of their motor skills, which enabled them to perform a variety of required fine and gross motor tasks. Meals were spent in conversation connection with family or friends, often in large groups, playing games or making music and dancing. Families and communities living as a “pack” not only ensured pack survival, but also offered each member ample opportunity to reach the limits of their own human potential by pushing them (often quite harshly) to succeed. If the pack member didn’t rise to the occasion, and adapt to the stresses placed on them, they didn’t survive. Since Darwin’s time, we have known that evolution of the human species requires adaptation to stress, and stress serves to promote species adaptation, but only to a degree. If the stress becomes too great, the human species will cease to adapt or evolve, and extinction becomes inevitable.

Impact of Technology

Over the past 25 years, we have witnessed significant changes to human biology and socialization resulting from technology overuse. Humans are not adapting to these changes fast nor sufficient enough, to sustain human existence on this planet. For many children, the boundaries between the virtual world and the real world have begun to blur, and the human body, mind and soul are becoming lost in a void which is devoid of movement, touch, human connection, and nature. The rapid pace with which technology has invaded the human species has raised a host of questions, many of which have no answers. Research takes time, and the pace of technology evolution is so fast, it’s impossible to monitor human change with long term, replicated studies. For example, what intensity, frequency, and duration of evolutionary stress, in the form of technology, can the human species realistically adapt to? As rapidly as technology is advancing, can human species adaptation possibly keep up, and what happens if it can’t? These questions are posed to the reader as food for further thought, and action. Technology is a “train” that has moved out of the station and is rapidly accelerating. Humans are starting to fall off the technology train at an incrementally increasing rate, often without the knowledge or awareness of the closest members of their pack, their families, educators and health professionals. Children, who are truly the most vulnerable members of any pack or society, appear to be falling off the technology train the fastest, in increasing record numbers, and are therefore fairing the worst. With mounting research showing technology is harming children, it is time to take immediate measures to restrict technology use, and begin to manage a balance between activities children need to grow and succeed, with technology.

Evolution and Human Species Sustainability

Sustainability is defined by the Wikapedia dictionary as the capacity to endure. Wikapedia goes on to state that from an ecological perspective, the term sustainability describes how biological systems remain productive over time. For humans, sustainability is defined as the potential for long-term maintenance of well-being. In order to determine overall species sustainability, exploring the effects of technology overuse on parameters of children’s physical, mental, social and sensory development is essential, and will be applied to three definitions of sustainability – endurance, productivity, and well-being, While some readers might find this notion to be quite esoteric and farfetched, speaking as a biologist with an interest in promoting sustainable environments, this is an area that should peak interest and debate. If the way in which society is using technology to raise and educate children is indeed not sustainable as proposed, then as a society, we owe it to future generations of children to change our ways. There is a lot of work to be done, and quickly, if we are to turn the tide and start taming the powerful force that technology is exerting on our lives. Each and every one of us would be wise to ask of ourselves “Who is driving the ship? Technology – or me?”


While delayed child development associated with overuse of technology is unlikely to cause species demise in and of itself, it does have secondary effects worth considering such as decreased socioeconomic status and academic performance. Suboptimal sensory and motor development in children impacts on their achievement of literacy, which in turn impacts on a child’s completion of high school. Failure to complete high school affects job acquisition and future potential as a wage earner, to say nothing of the economic impact of high school “drop-outs” on the community as a whole. Failure to complete high school also affects attractiveness for human mating and formation of eventual partnerships, affecting overall species productivity and endurance. Obesity secondary to technology overuse is associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disorders, both affecting species endurance and well-being.

Sleep deprivation resulting from technology overuse affects every aspect of human existence including relationships, school/work performance, mental wellness, and cardiovascular fitness, ultimately impacting on species endurance, well-being, and productivity. Chronically high levels of cortisol and adrenalin from prolonged use of video games, result in hypothalamic pituitary axis fatigue, impacting species endurance and well-being. Early studies now show electromagnetic radiation emitted from all technology devices is proving harmful to adults. Children are more vulnerable, as their bodies contain more water and skulls are thinner, allowing more transmission of potentially harmful radiation. Children’s cells are replicating faster than adults, and DNA damage at an early age, makes children more susceptible to cancer and other diseases. Electromagnetic radiation from technology impacts species endurance and well-being.

Mental and Social

Child mental health impairment associated with technology overuse, impacts on species productivity and well-being. Poor communication skills and social isolation, both traits causally related to technology overuse in children, have a negative impact on species prowess and ability to find a mate. Unsuitability for mating will limit human ability to form meaningful relationships necessary to form partnerships and raise a family. Inability to secure a life partner and raise a family affects species propagation, and hence affects overall human sustainability through impacting endurance and well-being. Rising use of psychotropic medication with young children to treat behavior disorders associated with technology overuse has the potential to negatively impact all three sustainability factors – endurance, productivity, and well-being. While child aggression may have been advantageous to species longevity 100 years ago, in the 21st century child aggression is now coupled with developmental delay, impulsivity and illiteracy, making this trait far less attractive when considering overall species sustainability.


The ability of a child to adapt to sensory responses in their environment emerges early in life as a protective and discriminative mechanism, and as children grow they typically become better at tolerating uncomfortable sensory stimuli by applying strategies to self regulate. Sensory over-responsivity reflects a failure to achieve a balance between sensitization and habituation, and can affect many aspects of a child’s ability to function in both home and school settings. The impact of technology overuse on a developing child’s sensory system, and that sensory system’s ability to adapt and habituate to technological stimuli is unknown at this time. Possibly the profound rise in child mental and behavioral disorders reflects the fact that children are not adapting to the chaotic and hyper stimulated world of technology as well as we might think. The ability to relate in meaningful ways with other human beings, to be able to empathize and sympathize with others, really sets the human species distinctly apart from the animal species. As empathy requires human relatedness, one might ask the question “What will be the end result of technology’s progression toward isolation of the human species?” Sedentary, detached, angry, obese, over-stimulated and isolated, how much longer can the new millennium child attempt to adapt to this unhealthy lifestyle, and at what point is the human species no longer sustainable?


The physical and mental status of the parent is also a crucial factor for determining how well the child will fare. Parent obesity, mental illness, addictions, social isolation, and aggression, all conditions associated with technology overuse, have the potential to have profound effects on the endurance, productivity, and well-being of the next generation. Long durations of attachment to technology effectively “detaches” parents from their children, not only impacting on the parent’s ability to provide sustenance such as food, shelter and clothing, but also negatively impacting on the life sustaining effects of healthy attachment formation between parent and child. In conclusion, evidence suggests that parents and schools allow young children extended periods of unrestricted access to various forms of technology which is harmful to their physical, mental, social and academic development. Further evidence suggests parents are increasingly presenting their children to physicians for assessment of complex behavior disorders that may be linked to the physical inactivity and sensory over-responsivity inherent in the overuse of technology, or related to the “detached” state of the parent.

The ways in which we are raising and educating our children with technology are simply not sustainable, and immediate measures should be taken to reduce the use of technology, if we are to save The Last Generation.

Cris Rowan can be reached at info@zonein.ca. Additional information regarding the impact of technology on child development, behaviour and learning can be found on www.zonein.ca.