EdTech’s Failed Experiment – 10 ‘screen myths’ schools believe despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary

For the past 35 years I’ve worked as a pediatric occupational therapist providing a variety of services in schools settings including individualized assessments, staff workshops and playground/gym consultations. During this time, I’ve witnessed dramatic changes in how teachers teach, how students learn, and how government and administrations manage the ‘education process’. While historically books and paper ensured student achievement of printing, reading and numerical literacy by grade 3, and served as a foundation for further advancement in core subjects, schools have tossed them out in favor of screen-based technologies. While the bell curve flattens the performance gap widens, and grade level achievement is no longer the norm. Education governments and school administrations appear more interested in technology’s efficiency and less interested in whether it is even effective, moving forward to increase class size and lay off teachers. Staff and students pressured to ramp up use of education technology has resulted in an explosion of unrestricted entertainment content in schools including video games, porn, social media and bullying. While students and teachers become more addicted to their devices, screen addiction abounds. Significant studies are now showing that screens in schools might be the biggest experimental disaster of epic proportion ever known. 1 in 3 students enter school developmentally delayed, 1 in 4 are obese or overweight, 1 in 6 have a diagnosed mental illness, and 1 in 10 students are on an Individualized Education Plan. Without any consideration given to declining student well being and academic success, schools continue to allow students unrestricted access to entertainment-based technologies within the confines of education technology. This article profiles the myths schools believe which allow them to ignore the decline in student health and learning and proposes initiatives we can launch now to get our education systems back on track.

Myth # 1: the rise in child and youth mental disorders have nothing to do with use of screens in schools. Fact: in homes children aged 6-12 years log in 7.5 hours and teens use 9.0 hours per day of entertainment-based screens with Common Sense Media reporting in 2018 that over half of teens report screen addiction. Whenever a teacher or a student has a screen in their face they are unable to engage in meaningful and nurturing social communication.

Myth # 2: the rise in child and youth physical disorders and poor fitness have nothing to do with use of screens in schools. Fact: allow device use and students sit; prohibit device use and they get up and move around. It’s that simple.

Myth # 3: the rise in child and youth oppositional and aggressive behaviours is not related to screen overuse in schools. Fact: media violence causes aggression. School are reporting escalating issues with student violence toward teachers yet continue to allow unrestricted use of video games. Instead of promoting outside play on challenging playgrounds, teachers either keep them in at recess or expel them. Humans are pack animals and when removed from their pack and isolated, they don’t do well. Co-regulation between humans fosters self-regulation.

Myth # 4: education needs to be like a video game to capture the attention of “new age students.” Video games are linked attention deficit and the World Health Organization recently classified video game addiction as a mental health disorder. Thinking we can educate students using fast paced media content is akin to adding gas to a fire and expecting it to go out. If we want our students to retain and assimilate and apply information (deep learning), teachers need to use teach, not entertain.

Myth #5: students are not using devices for entertainment (video games, social media, porn) while at school, but rather for education purposes. Fact: students spend 97% of their screen time engaged in entertainment content and only 13 min. per day on education content.

Myth # 6: technology is the future and schools need to prepare children for the future. Fact: self-regulation and job-entry literacy are two most salient factors for academic success. Screens promote neither.

Myth # 7: students need these devices to learn as education governments have withdrawn funding of paper and books. Fact: schools can make the choice to re-route funds allocated for technology back toward purchase of traditional teaching modalities; they just need to do it.

Myth # 8: parents need to be able to contact their children and their child’s teacher at any time during the school day. Fact: 80% of parents don’t want their children to have cell phones in schools. Up until 10 years ago parents left messages with the school secretary. It’s the job of schools to ensure student safety and wellbeing. Talking to parents during the day is ruining a child’s chance to be self-sufficient and independent.

Myth # 9: parents are worried about school shooters and would need to know if their child is okay should a school lock down occur. Fact: there are numerous reasons for students to not use their cell phones during an emergency including distraction of user, alerts/rings notify shooter of location of hidden students and jamming of communications for first responders.

Myth # 10: letting students use screens in schools is the only way to get students to come to school; students will transfer to another school that allows cell phone use if restrictions on screens are imposed. Fact: allowing students to stay at home is a parenting issue, not a school issue. If students choose to stay at home to use screen media and parents allow this, then this action constitutes parental neglect requiring involvement of child protection services. Cell phone policies should be made on a district level which would prevent inter-district transfers.

The medical profession is heavily regulated with laws and guidelines to maximize safety and minimize risk to recipients. Medical procedures, therapies and drugs are researched by government and universities to prove efficacy and adhere to best practice standards. Studies are not driven by industry but rather by scientific methods which meet ethical guidelines e.g. free from conflict of interest, replicable, adequate study size. While not perfect, the medical system and people who work within it are held to high standards and discipline. The education system while regulated does not appear to recognize nor act in the best interests of the students it is servicing regarding health and education outcomes. Escalating use of non-evidence based and harmful technology devices and programs in the school system has reached a level where health governments were recently mandated to regulate education government use of technology in schools (Maryland Bill HB 1110). Schools across the globe are using education and entertainment technologies which have little to no benefit and proven harm to student health and well being. While education-based technology has potential ‘promise’, its significant ‘perils’ are not being managed well in school and home settings. Act now to ban all cell phones from schools to create a safe and effective learning environment for all students.

Parenting and Screens: The 7 rights of a child

While parenting has never been easy, parenting in the digital world requires a total new skill set that many parents are struggling to establish. What we want to remember as we negotiate our way through this maze of devices is that raising children is likely the most important job in the universe, and if done correctly, will ensure sustainable futures for people and planet. Parenting which is haphazard with few rules or structure results in children who struggle to meet their most basic needs. The following article was written to remind all of us of the 7 basic needs of children, and to point out that our children have a right to grow up in the most nurturing and safe environment that we can provide them. “Where are you going, my little one, little one? Where are you going, my baby, my own? Turn around and you’re two. Turn around and you’re four. Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of the door” by The Kingston Trio.

  1. To be loved

We all want one thing in life, and that is to love and be loved. In consultation children and teens continually report that they feel as if they are constantly letting their parents down and subsequently failing to gain their acceptance. Feeling unloved is a lonely and sad place for children who thrive on parental attention. Children need parental reassurance that they are ‘okay’ and that their parents are proud of their accomplishments. Parents often feel as if their job is to point out things their child does ‘wrong’ limiting time spent in pointing out what they do ‘right’. Find one thing your child does right every day and offer them a compliment will go a long way toward creating a well adjusted and happy child.

  1. To be healthy

 Today’s screen obsessed children are sedentary, overstimulated, and far from healthy. 1 in 3 children enter school developmentally delayed, 1 in 4 are obese or overweight, and 1 in 3 are sleep deprived. Screen use increases adrenalin and cortisol causing high blood pressure and fast heart rate with heart attack and stroke incidence increasing in our younger population. Wireless radiation causes cancer with 1 in 2 people getting cancer in their lifetime and 1 in 4 dying from it.

  1. To be happy

1 in 6 children have a diagnosed mental illness and 1 in 11 are addicted to screens. Today’s screen-centric children are far from happy. When connected to screens family members can’t help but be disconnected to each other. This ‘disconnection’ is the origin of mental illness and eventual screen addiction as in the absence of love and caring by the parents, the child as a default attaches to a device. Parents spend an average of 10.5 hours per day on entertainment technology. If your family is struggling with screen overuse, the first step is for parents to put down their screens and pay attention to their partners and children. Children who complete the school driven 24-hour “Survivor Unplugged Challenge” report they are happy, slept better, and didn’t fight with parents and sibs.

  1. To be listened to

The rapid and hectic pace of today’s families leaves little time for thoughtful and meaningful conversations.  Children and teens have so much to tell their families as they quickly move through their 18 years of preparation for adult life. Filling every spare minute with mindless and chaotic stimulation from screens creates a frantic family lifestyle characterized by members who have never known what it’s like to communicate with each other. Dyadic conversations composed of talking in complete sentences and listening to and interpreting each other’s responses is almost a lost art in today’s families. Children are entering school without comprehensible speech. Infants who are exposed to TV and are not read to or played with, have higher incidence of autism. Turn off the screens and go outside and listen…to the silence, to the sounds of nature, and to each other.

  1. To play outside and take risks

 Children whose parents fear that the world is ‘not safe’ stay inside more and use more screen-based technologies. When questioned about keeping their children inside, parents report that at least they know where the child is and what they are doing. Many parents of teens prefer they be home than out at parties or socializing with their peers. These parenting practices are detrimental to achieving normal developmental milestones and result in a teen who is socially phobic and fears ‘real’ friendships. Taking risks is part of growing up independent and resilient. Stuart Brown in his research on play histories found that children who had extensive histories of playing outside and building things with their hands were more successful as adults than children who stayed inside watching TV. Building forts, ‘fixing’ things, and doing outside chores are excellent ways to give your child the edge they need to succeed.

  1. To be literate

Although only 3.2% of Canadian children have a learning disability the National Assessment of Education Progress in 2015 reports 1 in 3 students are performing at grade level and half of grade eight students have not achieved job-entry literacy for printing, reading and math skills. Teachers spend an average 14 min per day in printing instruction in the primary grades, yet expect students to pick up a pencil and legibly print for up to 60% of their day. Screens cannot teach literacy…teachers teach literacy. Printing is the foundation for printing and math literacy. Bring back the chalk boards and bring back the hour per day it takes to teach children how to form their letters and numbers, and stop use of ‘education’ technology grades K-3 to ensure literacy for all students.

  1. To be masters at social communication

Speaking isn’t just about articulation to get your needs met, children who are masters of communication perform at much higher levels in post-secondary education and eventual occupations. Screens isolate children and prohibit social communication between family members. Families who have the background TV on speak 90% less to their children contributing to speech delays. While social skills are the salient determinant of job success, over half of North American homes leave the TV on all day effectively reducing their children’s chances of school and eventual work success.

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.

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

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

Infiltration of Health Sector by Microsoft

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

RCPCH Apparent Conflict of Interest

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

RCPCH Flawed Search Strategy

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

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

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

Misinterpretation and Misrepresentation of Data

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

Infiltration of Education Sector by Apple and Google

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

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

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

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

What about the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Sleep Deprivation

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

  1. Aggression and/or Violence

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Poor social relationships; autism, social phobia.

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

  1. Unemployable

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

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

  1. Game Transfer Phenomena.

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

  1. Porn and sexual perversions.

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

Porn Help Information

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

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

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

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

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

Reboot Nation –online support forum for stopping porn.

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

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

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