Systemic Abuse, Trauma and Neglect – Viewing child screen addiction as a coping mechanism for family dysfunction.

Every parent I’ve met professes profound love for their children and truly strives to create healthy and functional family lives. Parents who come from dysfunctional families have a much harder time navigating the pitfalls of parenthood as they simply cannot do what they were not taught. Being a functional attachment figure to a wee little child’s persistent needs requires a parent who has been able to put their own generational wounds behind them. Along comes the cell phone. In the absence of a functional attachment with their family of origin, parents are prone to creating unhealthy relationships with their devices. In the absence of a primary attachment figure, children follow the parents lead and form unhealthy attachments to their own devices. The cell phone becomes an interface between family members prohibiting a life sustaining and essential component of every childhood…healthy attachment. Addictions to devices really should be viewed as a coping mechanism for family dysfunction carried through generation after generation. Reframing child screen addiction as a coping mechanism for family dysfunction allows families, teachers and clinicians to focus on improved family relationships as a primary intervention in treating addiction. This article intends to cast light upon the probable origins of child screen addiction and offers the Healthy Families Questionnaire to guide families toward actions to improve healthy family relationships.

When I ask parents what their goals are for their child’s future they talk about happiness and success primarily in academics, relationships and health. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I assess family habits which limit goal attainment and frequently find that screen overuse is a predominant and disruptive factor. Some components of a functional family might include communication, affection, respect, play, responsibility and rules all of which diminish with screen overuse. Parents (and teachers) who overuse and overly rely on screens are turning their backs on children and in doing so, fail to meet their most basic needs for optimizing growth and academic success. This systemic over reliance on screens has an overwhelming effect on children and ultimately if left unchecked, leads to what could in some extreme cases be viewed as child neglect, trauma and abuse. In the absence of ‘real’ families and schools, children are attaching to their ‘virtual’ devices as a coping mechanism (Montage 2020) to help them to deal with system failures. I repeatedly quote in my workshops on screen overuse “It’s never the child with the problem, it’s the systems surrounding children that need to change”. What I mean by ‘systems’ are family, education and health.

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With recent Covid-19 restrictions, both home and school use of screen devices has risen markedly with many families and schools reporting managing healthy screen use is ‘virtually’ impossible. As parents, teachers and clinicians struggle to raise, educate and treat children, they have unknowingly created a virtual world devoid of all the factors required for optimizing child growth and success: movement, touch, human connection and nature. Screen-centric families are forgoing traditional ‘tried and true’ routines for toilet training, nap/bedtime, meals, outside play and chores ultimately creating children who are overly dependent, delayed, anxious, depressed, unable to sleep, have difficulty socializing, have learning difficulties, can’t self-regulate their emotions and/or have difficulty listening or completing requested tasks. 

Just as there are screen-centric families, there are also screen-centric schools. Screens in schools have limited research evidence as an effective learning tool (see Every School’s Research Summary 2019) yet has become the default education choice by most schools both pre- and post-Covid 19. Dr. Dimitri Christakis a renown pediatrician, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute and editor-in-chief of JAMA Pediatrics states children are “social animals” and using a decision analytical model found that life expectancy of children would be greater if they attended school in person than online, yet educations systems continue with virtual instruction. Reflecting on above Building Foundations graphic would guide schools toward evidence-based practice of outdoor or nature-based education models where half the children are in classrooms for half the day and outside for the other half. Outdoors would provide access to the 4 critical factors for optimizing development, attention and learning as evidenced by prolific scientific research (Dresp-Langley 2020).

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Whether you are a parent, teacher or clinician reading this article, a first step toward gaining perspective regarding family function might be for families to fill in the Healthy Families Questionnaire. This scale will help families identify some of the components of a healthy family and discover things to do to improve healthy family function. The suggested process in filling out the Healthy Families Scale is to have a family discussion while answering questions and then working together as a family team to come up with ideas for improving family function and overall health. In treating children who overuse or are addicted to screens, we must bear in mind that a family centred approach is crucial for the process of family and generational healing. Addiction treatment must include endeavours to address the underlying causal factors of generational family neglect, trauma and abuse or we will be treating the wrong person for the wrong reason. We must help families to recognize that they are not a “bad” family but rather are a family who has survived years of dysfunction. Shining a light on a path toward healthy function will provide a framework with which to move forward toward generational healing.

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, international speaker and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”. Cris is CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc., collates research for the monthly Zone’in Child Development Series Newsletter, and writes a feature article for her blog Moving to Learn.

Montag C, Elhai JD. 2020. Discussing digital technology overuse in children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond: On the importance of considering Affective Neuroscience Theory. Addictive Behavior Reports. Vol. 12;100313.

Every School’s Research Summary. Oct. 2019. Every Schools website. Retrieved on Jan. 11, ’21. Includes prolific research regarding failure of schools to following evidence-based practice with use of screens in education.

Christakis D, Van Cleve W, Zimmerman F. 2020. Estimation of US Children’s Educational Attainment and Years of Life Lost Associated With Primary School Closures During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Pandemic. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(11):e2028786.

Dresp-Langley B. Children’s Health in the Digital Age. 2020. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020 May 6;17(9):3240.

Wireless Radiation is NOT SAFE for Children – National Toxicology Program findings indicate “Go Wired” campaign urgently required to protect children.

In the dark recesses of every parent’s mind lives a niggling question “Are wireless devices safe”? While oncology and epidemiology researchers have expressed concerns regarding wireless radiation safety to various levels of health and education governments, the public continues to be reassured that wireless devices are safe. But are they PROVEN to be safe, and if so, what levels of wireless usage are okay for children? This article presents recent research by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Toxicology Program (NTP) implicating wireless devices as a causal factor in two types of cancer, heart Schwannoma and brain glioma. Compiling this recent NIEHS/NTP data conducted on animals, with already existing human epidemiological research, and rising incidence of the same two types of cancer, raises serious concerns about wireless radiation and human safety. France is banning all wireless devices including cell phones from all public schools starting September 2018, and California Public Health is actively educating their public regarding risk of harm from wireless radiation. Children are more vulnerable to wireless radiation than adults due to thinner skulls, more aqueous bodies/brains, and higher rate of cell turn over.  Until research proves wireless devices are safe, and adequately defines what levels of radiation are safe for different ages, immediate steps must be taken to remove wireless radiation from all areas where children reside. “Go Wired” is a global campaign advocating for replacing wireless with wired internet, and relocating cell phone towers away from facilities which serve children. These life sustaining initiatives will ensure immediate safety for children (including unborn fetuses) from dangerous effects of wireless radiation in their home, school, clinic, and other community settings.

 What is wireless radiation?

All devices which operate using electricity emit radiation. Wired or corded devices have insulated cables, preventing leakage of radiation into the surrounding environment. Wireless devices such as routers, cell phones, and tablets, as well as emissions from cell phone towers, are NOT insulated. To effectively transmit and receive signals, wireless devices emit a type of radiation termed radiofrequency radiation (RFR) measured in hertz. Wireless cell phones and tablets emit high levels of RFR due to multiple antennae are seeking a wireless signal ~ 900 times per minute. There is no way to shield children from wireless radiation, as the shield would prevent normal operation of the device.

Wireless radiation penetration to the user is highest when closest to the device, and increases with duration of device use e.g. distance and duration. Other factors which increase radiation exposure are multiple device use and/or closeness to other device users, distance from wireless radiation transmitting tower e.g. device “works harder” to find source, and areas of higher concentration of wireless radiation e.g. multiple cell phone towers. As wireless radiation is now likely to be reclassified as a ‘probable’ 2A carcinogen, accumulated changes to cellular structure and function not only across the life span, but also genetic DNA damage passed onto children from mothers exposed to wireless radiation, require immediate research attention and consideration.

 Why was the public not warned?

Wireless radiation is electromagnetic in nature, disrupting bioelectric charges found in human cell walls and structure which would in turn negatively impact cellular DNA and mitochondria. Despite knowledge regarding biological effects to cellular structure and function from wireless radiation, 20 years ago the International Committee on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) set guidelines that only apply to heating effect from microwave radiation, guidelines which are still referenced by today’s governments to prove safety of wireless radiation. Subsequent research only investigated the thermal effects of RFR and determined in 1998 that ‘heat’ from RFR was not harmful to humans, resulting in Health Canada’s widely referenced Safety Code 6 which to this day, states that wireless radiation is safe. Health Canada and the Federal Communications Commission created a measure termed Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) which is defined as the rate that body tissue absorbs radiation during cell phone use. Maximum SAR levels for adults were determined by measuring thermal, not biological effect for wireless devices, and was set at a SAR level of 1.6 watts of energy absorbed per kilogram of body weight. There are no known safe levels for wireless radiation based on measurements of biological changes to cellular structure and function. Despite increased vulnerability of children to wireless radiation, maximum SAR levels for children are the same as adults.

 When should the public have been warned by government?

As cancer incidence increased, and epidemiological research accumulated showing cancer was associated to wireless radiation from cell phones and laptops, in 2011 the World Health Organization – International Agency for Research on Cancer (WHO-IARC) classified radiofrequency radiation as a Group 2B ‘possible’ human carcinogen. In 2016, preliminary findings from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science – National Toxicology Program (NIEHS-NTP) long-term bioassays on RFR which measured biological effects of RFR in rats, indicated adverse effects of RFR on rat cellular structure and function, ultimately resulting in two types of cancer: malignant glial tumors of the brain and heart Schwannoma. The NIDHS-NTP study exposed rats to 2G and 3G radiation from a cell phone ‘placed in their cage’ (not on their body) 9 hours per day for a 2-year duration. Final results from the NIEHS-NTP  study released in January 2018 were subjected to expert panel review which concluded on March 29, 2018 “clear evidence” for heart Schwannoma and “some evidence” for brain glioma. Most importantly, the type of cells that became cancerous were the same type of cells found to cause tumors in human studies of cell phone radiation exposure, also showing an increase in Acoustic Neuromas (tumors of the ear) found in earlier human studies.  The Ramazzini Institute recently released the largest rat study of its kind which focused on exposures from cell towers with levels of wireless RF radiation exposures 60-1000 times lower than the levels tested in the NTP study, and found the tumors observed in the NTP study are of the type similar to the ones observed in some epidemiological studies of cell phone users.

Who did try to warn the public?

Christopher Portier, Ph.D., retired head of the NTP who was involved in the launch of the NIEHS-NTP study, insisted the findings showed clear causation. “I would call it a causative study, absolutely,” he told Scientific American. “They controlled everything in the study. It’s because of the exposure”, (referencing detected cancer). In November 2016, David McCormick, Ph.D., director of the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute where the study was conducted, was equally clear, telling reporters, “What we are saying here is that based on the animal studies, there is a possible risk cellphone RF is potentially carcinogenic in humans. These are uncommon lesions in rodents, so it is our conclusion that they are exposure related.” Despite large scale, government-run studies showing biological harm from wireless radiation on animals, neither Health Canada nor National Institute of Health have acted to warn the public regarding these risks.

Why aren’t wireless device manufacturers warning users of wireless risk?

 Product warnings by wireless device manufacturers advise users to hold wireless devices 1” away from head and body to reduce thermal (not biological) effects, which is where SAR levels are measured during product design and manufacturing. This paltry initiative is further diluted by the fact that few wireless device users are even aware of this safety warning, as manufacturers routinely bury it in small print on product monographs, and many users habitually place device either right next to their head, in pockets,  or on their lap. While SAR levels have stayed under the 1.6 maximum allowable watts, Apple iPhone SAR levels have DOUBLED since the Apple 3 was introduced (see below). Again – SAR levels are in regard to thermal effects from wireless radiation; presently there is no research data indicating safe levels of wireless radiation regarding biological effects. Additional harm (which is not referred to by either government nor wireless manufacturers) accrues when wireless device users log high durations of exposure, use multiple devices at the same time, are exposed to second hand radiation from users close by, are young with more vulnerable bodies and brains, and are using devices in an area with highly concentrated radiation such as is found in many intercity locations where multiple towers co-exist.

Apple iPhone Xnot yet available

Apple iPhone 8 Plus: SAR 1.19
Apple iPhone 8: 1.20
Apple iPhone 7 Plus: 1.19
Apple iPhone 7: 1.20
Apple iPhone SE: 1.19
Apple iPhone 6s Plus: 1.14
Apple iPhone 6s: 1.14
Apple iPhone 6 Plus: 1.19
Apple iPhone 6: 1.18
Apple iPhone 5: 1.18
Apple iPhone 5c: 1.19
Apple iPhone 4S: 1.19
Apple iPhone 4 (GSM): 1.11
Apple iPhone 4 (CDMA): 0.87
Apple iPhone 3GS: 0.67

What actions are required to create safe and sustainable environments for children?

Recommendations from NIEHS-NTP study should include reclassification of wireless radiation from Group 2B ‘possible’ to Group 2A ‘probable’ carcinogen (same level as cigarettes and asbestos). As reclassification of wireless radiation and protective recommendations by health governments could take years, as did regulations to use protective lead shields with pregnant women, suggestion is to “Go Wired” e.g. use only ‘wired’ devices. Following are steps toward creating sustainable future for all children.

  1. Go Wired – disconnect routers from modems and plug all wireless devices directly into modem. This effectively means banning all wireless devices (including cell phones and non-convertible laptops and tablets) from all homes and facilities that service children and pregnant mothers e.g. daycares, preschools, schools, child development centres, medical clinics, hospitals, restaurants, stores, airports, parks, recreation centres etc.
  1. Off or Airplane Mode – adults carrying cell phones (and other wireless devices) must either turn off device or convert device to ‘airplane mode’ when servicing or interacting with children and pregnant mothers.
  1. Removal of Cell Phone Towers – from aforementioned areas which provide services to children and pregnant mothers.
  1. Precautionary measures for adults include increasing the distance, duration and frequency of wireless device use, reduce multiple device use, and reduce exposure to high wireless radiation areas. Every 1” increased distance away from wireless device, equates to 10 times reduction in radiation e.g. 10” distance reduces radiation 100-fold.

This article was written by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapists, biologist, author and international speaker on the impact of technology on children. Cris’s website is www.zonein.ca, blog is www.movingtolearn.ca, and book is www.virtualchild.ca. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca.

Join the “Go Wired” movement today by sharing this article with members of your School Board, and advocating for banning wireless radiation from areas where children frequent. Start by asking “Show me documentation proving wireless radiation is safe”? Based on data presented in this article, it is not acceptable for School Boards to default to Health Canada’s Safety Code 6.

Pediatrics Summary – Children, Adolescents and Screens: What We Know and What We Need to Learn

An interdisciplinary summit called Children and Screen Time: A Growing Health Crisis was held in Washington DC on Nov. 1, 2017 sponsored by Children and Screens: The Institute of Digital Media and Child Development. Research presented at this summit was published in the November issue of Pediatrics – the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics summarized below.

Media Multitasking results in decreased memory, increased impulsivity, decreased neural structure, and decreased academic outcomes. Recommendations for clinicians and educators are to give careful consideration for how youth engage with media.

Social Media in youth is associated with cyberbullying, depression, social anxiety, sleep deprivation, low self-esteem, and exposure to developmentally inappropriate content. Authors recommend mandatory digital literacy for grades K-12.

Digital Media in children is associated with fear, trauma, social anxiety, depression, negative image, poor life satisfaction, poor emotion regulation, and decreased social interaction. Recommendations include education for parents and children, and encouragement to explore alternate activites to entertainment media.

Internet Gaming Disorder is documented in 9% of children ages 8-18 years identified by 5 or more of 9 criteria including preoccupation with games; withdrawal symptoms; tolerance; unsuccessful attempts to control or reduce gaming; loss of interest in relationships and alternate activites; continued use of games despite obvious problems; deception of others regarding gaming; escape as primary reason for use; and loss of significant relationship, job, or educational opportunity.

Recommendations for schools are as follows:

  • Routine education about IGD and expand the infrastructure already in place for other potentially problematic behaviors (drugs, alcohol, risky sex, gambling) to include media overuse;
  • Because of the consistent link between IGD and poor school performance, schools may be an excellent place for screening for IGD and for providing referrals for services;
  • Due to prevalence of IGD, discontinue “gamifying” educational processes.

Sleep Deprivation from digital media results in obesity, decreased cognitive functioning, and impaired mental health. 73% of Canadian children are sleep deprived. 75% of children are allowed devices in their bedrooms, and 60% use devices prior to going to bed. Recommendations include prohibiting all devices from child and youth bedrooms.

Digital Screen Devices including television has an impact on cognitive development. For children under 2 years old, television has mostly negative associations, especially for language and executive function. Recommendations include limiting television exposure (especially background television) before the age of 2 years.

Youth Well Being can be affected by heavy media use including diminished life satisfaction, internalizing negative experiences, depression, anxiety, attention problems and stress. Recommendations include parents learning about the social media sites their children are using and creating a digital curfew to increase health and well being.

Virtual Reality (VR) availability has raised concerns of increased sedentary lifestyle, cyber addiction, violence, social isolation, desensitization and safety. VRs may not be appropriate for all children. Recommendations include the ongoing research into potential negative effects (e.g. dizziness, sickness, displacement) when designing wearable technologies marketed for children.

Obesity in children is on the increase, related directly to screen media exposure. Reducing screen time along with changes in diet and increasing physical activity, can reduce obesity and result in less BMI gain in children. Recommendations include not consuming meals in front of a screen and ensuring children receive adequate sleep.

Substance Abuse and Problematic Gambling by adolescents are increased by exposure to favorable presentations of harmful substances on social media, as well as increased opportunities for engaging in behaviours that can lead to addiction, such as online gambling. Recommendations include using online resources to reach and assist adolescents and parents to avoid progression of these behaviors.

Small Screen Use is affecting driving safety, the inability of the driver to ignore them is the main cause. Recommendations include policy makers writing teen-aged driver laws that discourage the use of sources of digital distraction in the vehicle.

Parents Media Use can influence children’s media use, their attitudes regarding media, and the effects of media on their children e.g. families with media centric parents, results in young children having more daily screen time and are more likely to have a television in their bedroom. Recommendations include families using media to connect, co-view and create, choosing high quality content. Parents should use mediation strategies to reduce screen time.

Children’s Privacy may be affected by the Internet of Things, creating digital dossiers of information that could follow young people into adulthood, affecting access to education, employment, healthcare and financial services. Recommendations include policy makers expanding children’s privacy safeguards to encompass data collection and marketing practices across digital platforms, including toys and other objects that are part of the Internet of Things.

Digital and Media Literacy is essential to participate in society. Learning happens anywhere, anytime, and productivity in the workplace depends on digital and media literacy. Recommendations include developing tests that assess real-world literacy skills to ensure that youth become digitally and media literate.

Youth Civic Engagement using digital media participation, often referred to as participatory politics, is a positive way for youth to be involved in shaping the world they are growing up in. But it is not without risk as these tools may be used for exploitation by political extremists and the online information is not always accurate, messages can be misconstrued or have unanticipated consequences. Recommendations include teaching adolescents how to manage rather than avoid risks inherent to life online.

Screen Violence has short and long term harmful effects including increased aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, physiologic arousal, hostile appraisals, aggressive behaviour, desensitization to violence and decreased prosocial behaviour and empathy. Recommendations include a healthy media diet and parents to watch, play and listen to the media youth are consuming, preferably at the same time as their children.

Digital Inequality can be found in the US as more than half of all children are growing up in low-income families, where they are more likely to face social challenges, including constrained access to the internet and devices, rising to more disparities between them and their more privileged counterparts. Recommendations include providers not assuming there is a consistent access to online resources and the recognition that in many cases it is the children guiding the parents on how to access advice and services online, when it is available.

Children’s Digital Opportunities especially for information and education has great benefit around the world. Current research reveals an insufficient evidence base to guide policy and practice across all continents of the world, especially in middle- and low-income countries. Recommendations include further cross-cultural research and to share best practices internationally so that children can navigate the balance between risks and opportunities.

Defining Cyberbullying – the 3 characteristics of traditional bullying – intent, repetition and power imbalance are not always present in digital behaviours. To make significant progress in addressing cyberbullying, certain key research questions need to be addressed. Recommendations include asking patients about their online behaviour and encouraging parents to talk to children about their digital activities.

Advertising exposure of children and adolescents online can have both short – and long-term negative consequences. Recommendations include encouraging parents to monitor their children’s exposure to marketing communication and educators to increase children’s advertising knowledge.

Social Group Stories help young people identify their gender and race among other important human categories. These messages can have negative and positive effect on children and adolescent’s thoughts and behaviours. Recommendations include talking to children and teens about how the stories they see tell them who they are and help them to understand where the stories came from and what their own role is in determining their destiny.

Sexual Media exposure online is different to exposure in traditional media, i.e. it is available 24/7 and is harder for parents to monitor. Social media use, sexting and online porn can all influence adolescents to engage in risky behaviours. Recommendations include providing tools to help parents recognize problematic sexual content, empower them to limit their children’s exposure to and creation of such content, and help them discuss its potential influence with their children.

Preventing Autism – It might be easier than you think!

Baby Watching TV

Recent shifts in autism research from biological to environmental determinants, has yielded prolific data with exciting implications. This information when applied, could not only prevent autism, but also reduce symptoms in children who already have autism. Interested? This proposed intervention for autism prevention and treatment requires two components 1) absence of screens, and 2) eye contact with the parent. Two simple acts performed by one or both parents on a daily basis, could prevent and treat autism, providing children with a future full of vast and rich social and emotional experiences. Two easy to administer, yet profoundly impactful initiatives, could save children from a world of intense isolation and loneliness, as well as endless, costly therapies. Two quick actions, eliminating screen time and increasing parent time, could ensure a child grows up happy and healthy, with meaningful relationships and academic success. Simple logic implies that as screen time goes down, parent/child social interactions go up, increasing the critical time frame for formation of functional social relationships. Studies have shown that even as early as 0-6 months, the brains of infants exposed to screens and deprived of parental eye contact, are being wired differently. This article written by a pediatric occupational therapist and a family physician, present documented research findings which support the premise that eliminating screen time, and increasing eye contact with parents, will significantly reduce the risk and incidence of autism.

Autism is defined as a neurodevelopmental disorder, one that is marked by the impaired ability of a child or an adult to be able to participate in reciprocal human relationships. Children on the autism spectrum lack connection to the humans around them, seeing other people more as objects.  They often have difficult and baffling behaviors, uncontrollable tantrums, inflexible eating demands, social phobias, school difficulties, and disruptive sleeping habits. Autism incidence continues to escalate. According to the Center for Disease Control’s most recent report published in 2014, the prevalence of autism went up 30% from their prior study two years earlier.  In the recent study, the prevalence for boys was one child out of 49, with four to five times as many boys as girls. For some time it was thought that autism was largely a genetic disorder; that children are born with it or not. Based on small twin studies from some 20 years ago it was commonly thought up to 90% of the cause of autism would come from genetic factors.  However recent population studies from Sweden, Denmark, and California have placed the hereditability of autism close to 50%.  These studies involve very large cohorts of children giving them great validity (Sandin 2014, Therese, 2013, Hallmayer 2011).

Recent studies have lead researchers to realize that autism has its roots in the first year of life. In 2011 Dr. Chonchaiya published a study looking retrospectively comparing groups of 50 children with and without ASD.  She found that those children who developed ASD had started watching television six months earlier at six months of age and by the age of 12 months were watching twice as much television a day as the children without ASD. Using eye tracking technology Warren Jones showed in 2013 that children who were destined to develop autism had abnormal eye tracking findings as early as 6 months of age.  Another study, again using eye tracking technology, showed reactions to human speech at six months of age could separate children who would develop ASD from those who would not (Shic 2014). Finally a third study this time using neuroimaging demonstrated a difference in the actual structure of white matter tracts going to and from the occipital cortex in the brains of children who will develop autism, again at 6 months of age (Elison 2013). The link between autism and screens is not new. The introduction of cable TV in the 80’s was followed by a 17% increase in the number of cases of autism (Waldman 2006).

It is known that infants learn the sounds of the language spoken to them during the first year of life and by the end of the first year are no longer attending to non-native sounds (Kuhl 2005). The critical time for learning this part of speech is during the first year of life. Could social behavior be the same?  There are studies showing language acquisition is impaired by screen-time (Chonchaiya 2008, Okuam 2007), and the learning of social behavior could likewise be impaired. Autism is the failure of a child to develop reciprocal social relationships with other human beings, so how might screen-time in infancy block or interfere with the development of this vital skill set?

Screen viewing could interfere with tasks that require infants to scan the three dimensional world such as joint attention, a critical social skill for the child under one, effectively changing visual processing (Charman 2003). Screen-time is thought to be a major distractor from social relationships in older children with autism, and there is no reason to think that this distraction would not start from the time of first exposure of infant to screen-time (Engelhardt 2014). Screen-time cannot offer social interaction. Learning social interaction requires social interaction. Screen devices are social dead ends for infants and babies. In today’s world as an infant looks around at people and follows their eyes to see where they are looking, there is a good chance those eyes will lead back to a screen device. Most children with autism are entranced by screen devices.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2001 recommends no screen-time until the child is two years old and no more than two hours a day after that, yet children are using 4-5 times that amount (Kaiser Foundation 2010). Will the escalation in screen-time as opposed to face-to-face time, be a major contributing factor in the epidemic rise in autism? Will we be known as a society that chose to give a diagnosis rather than quality time, medication rather than a hug, and costly programs rather than applied common sense? Prevent autism now. Turn off the screens and play with children.

Research References

American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Public Education. Children, adolescents and television. Pediatrics. 2001; 107 (2): 423-426.

Are Autism Spectrum Conditions More Prevalent in an Information-Technology Region? A School-Based Study of Three Regions in the Netherlands. (2012, 5). Jounal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(5), 734-739.

CDC Autism and Developmental Monitoring Network Surveillance Year. (2014). Prevalence of Autism Sprectrum Disorder Among Children Aged 8 Years- Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 11 Sites, United States,2010. MMWR, 63(2), 1-22.

Chonchaiya, W. (2008). Television viewing associates with delayed language development. Acta Paediatrica, 997-982.

Chonchaiya, W. (2011). Comparision of television viewing between children with autism spectrum disorder and controls. Acta Paediatrica, 100, 1033-1037.

Elison, J.T. (2013). White Matter Microstructure and Atypical Visual Orienting in 7-Month-Olds at Risk for Autism. American Journal Psychiatry, 170(8), 899-908.

Hallmayer, J. (2011). Genetic heritability and shared environmental factors among twin paris with Autism. Archives General Psychiatry, 68(11), 1095-1102.

Jones, W., Kiln A. (2013). Attention to eyes is present but in decline in 2-6-month-old infants later diagnosed with autism. Nature, 000, 1-5.

Kaiser Foundation Report. 2010.

Okuma, K., Tanimura, K. (2007). Television viewing, reduced parental utterance, and delayed speech development ininfants and young children. Archives Pediatric Adolescent Medicie, 161(8), 618-619.

Sandin, S., Lichtenstein, P., & etc. (2014). The Familial Risk of Autism. JAMA, 311(17), 1770-1777.

Shic, F., Macari S, Chawarska K. (2014). Speech Disturbs Face Scanning in 6-Month-Old Infants Who Develop Autism Spectrum Disorder. Biology Psychiatry, 75, 231-237.

Therese K., Gronborg, D. E. (2013). Recurrence of Autism Spectrum Disorders in Full- and Half-Siblings and Trends Over Time. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(10), 947-953.

Waldman,W. (2006). Does Television Cause Autism? NBER Working Paper No. 12632.

Author Biographies

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, author, and speaker and lives in British Columbia. Her website is www.zonein.ca, blog www.movingtolearn.ca, and book is “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children” available on Amazon and www.virtualchild.ca. Cris can be reached at info@zonein.ca.

Dr. Leonard Oestreicher, MD is a family physician, author, and President of the Society for the Study of ASD and Social-Communication and lives in California. His website is www.ssas-c.com, and book is “The Pied Pipers of Autism” available on Amazon.  Leonard can be reached at leonard@ssas-c.com.

Ten MORE reasons why handheld devices should be banned for children under the age of 12

Baby with Mac

Please click on highlighted word in sentence to link to supporting research. Additional research, and research references can be found on Zone’in Fact Sheet.

Mounting research indicates technology is harming our children, yet adults continue to adamantly support unrestricted use (Huffington Post, 2014). Handheld devices have significantly increased infant, toddler, and child access and immersion into a virtual world devoid of critical factors for development, behaviour, and learning. Prolonged and unsupervised exposure by young children to violent and fast paced imagery is resulting in significant changes in brain wiring and chemistry. Teachers and parents struggle to manage child behaviours as tantrums, aggression, detachment, and defiance have become the norm. Sedentary, neglected, overstimulated, and isolated, the future of the new millennium child is now in question. Act now to save what could become The Last Generation of children by signing this petition for government intervention to ban handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years, citing 20 research evidenced reasons (10 listed below, and 10 listed in previously published document).

  1. Disconnected parents cause rise in child mental illness

A frequent scene in today’s culture is adults attached to devices and detached from their children (Radesky 2014). These often neglected children display a variety of problematic behaviors, which are increasingly diagnosed as mental illness, with the really unfortunate children placed on dangerous and unproven psychotropic medications. Sad, mad, and bad, detached children form unhealthy attachments with the ‘constant’ in their lives…technology, which they are overusing 4-6 times expert recommended guidelines (AAP 2013). Technology use by children is driven by parents, and overuse is readily enforced, presumably to free up parent’s time to connect to their own devices.

  1. Technology use is not being managed, by parents or teachers

While there is no doubt that technology has education potential when used in moderation as per expert guidelines e.g. none 0-2 years, 1 hr/day 3-5 yrs, 2 hr/day 6-18 yrs, these guidelines are largely ignored in both home and school settings i.e. 39% of parents (Center on Media and Human Development 2013) use over 11 hours per day of entertainment technology. While parents and teachers think children are using technology to do their school work, they are either social networking, playing video games, and/or watching pornography. Citing vague educational opportunities, this irresponsible trend by parents and teachers to allow young children unrestricted access to devices is sweeping across North America with devastating results.

  1. Frontal lobe atrophy detected in video game addicted youth

As technology displaces teaching literacy rates plummet. North American children have never been sicker or more learning disabled than they are today, yet the tech illusion continues, placing children at the forefront of the largest experiment known to humankind. With all this hype about education technology, Canada slipped from the top ten in the 2012 PISA to 13th, and the U.S. is ranked 27th on the world stage (CBC News 2013). Half of grade eight students do not demonstrate job entry literacy (National Center for Education Statistics 2010). While some children do learn from technology, the majority are overusing technology to the extent of atrophy of the frontal lobes of the brain (Dunckley 2014). Termed The Learning Paradox – the more you use the less you learn – these decerebrate children will not be our best and brightest, nor are they likely to attain future job success.

  1. Rising rate of unemployment in young adults associated with technology addictions

In 2011, 43% of Canadian adults aged 20-24 years live with their parents (Employment and Social Development Canada 2011), as do 53% of North American adults aged 18-24 years (Colombia University Mailman School of Public Health, 2010) live with their parents, and while some might be attending post-secondary or looking for work, many are spending inordinate amounts of time in the basement, addicted to video games, pornography, and social networking. A 2009 study showed 8% of boys aged 8-18 years are already addicted to video games (Gentile 2009) which graphically depict significant physical and sexual violence.

  1. Rising rate of pornography use by young children is fueling rape culture and TIP industry

Children in elementary school are acting out rape scenes from Grand Theft Auto V (The Telegraph 2014) and universities are hiring rape counsellors and forming rape prevention teams due to an escalation in campus sexual violence (MacLeans 2013). Age six is the average age for initial exposure to pornography, and 42% of ten year olds are actively using internet porn (Wolack 2007). Associated with porn addiction is isolation, failed relationships, and erectile dysfunction (Sellers 2013). An unfortunate consequence of porn addiction is desensitization and tolerance, requiring increased intensity of stimuli to satiate craving, including prostitution and sexual depravity e.g. children, sexual violence, (Klein 2009). Jonathan Spencer, CEO of New Horizons (www.nhhope.org) reports that, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is tied with the illegal arms industry as the second largest criminal industry in the world, and it is the fastest growing. In 1998 the average age of those being trafficked was 18; by 2000, the average age had dropped to 15.  The most prevalent destination for trafficked people is employment in the commercial sex industry and the production of pornography for worldwide distribution. Annual profits generated by the human trafficking industry are estimated to be $32 billion annually.

  1. Rising rate of school shootings is killing children

Since Newtown CT shooting, there have been an additional 44 school shootings (Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America 2014) killing 28 children. While all school shooters are gamers, not all gamers become shooters. That said, current research indicates the profile of a school shooter is fourfold (Zone’in Newsletter 2013): addiction to video games, a loner, diagnosed with a mental illness and on or withdrawing from psychotropic medication (WND Education 2012), and access to guns. In addition to rape, school shootings are also on the rise (Think Progress 2014).

  1. Fabricated identity, increased social phobia, and decreased self-efficacy

Youth now spend the majority of their time inside isolated from family and friends resulting in fear of actual face to face social situations, and consequently rarely develop social skills necessary for forming lasting and meaningful relationships, or achieving long term employment. Self-efficacy an empathy (Forbes 2013) are two salient determinants for eventual success, yet today’s children and youth live in a virtual world of narcissism and fabricated identities, resulting in feelings of failure when faced with anything real (relationship, school, work). Child and youth depression, anxiety, and suicide continue to escalate, as they fall deeper and deeper into a world of fake war and fake love.

  1. iPads for infants resulting in technology addiction in toddlers

Infants are being strapped into car seats with iPad mounts less than 6” from their face (CTV News 2013), forcing them to view glaringly bright images in a virtual reality devoid of touch and human connection. Toddlers as young as 2 years of age have their own iPads, and children as young as 3 have their own cell phones (Guardian News 2014). Child immersion in the virtual world is spinning out of control, yet no one seems to notice. Any attempts at suggestions of technology reduction policy (Huffington Post 2014) go thwarted due to resounding and emphatic messages from parents and teachers to continue with unrestricted technology use. The touted promises by technology production companies has now overshadowed the perils, as public ignorance regarding the detrimental impact of technology on children grows beyond common sense or reason.

  1. Acoustic neuromas, sperm DNA fragmentation, and decreased sperm motility detected in cell phone and laptop users

All technology devices which seek or send internet signals emit radiation (cell phones, tablets, gaming devices, laptops, mobile phones). While health authorities have ruled that the heat effects from device radiation are within safe limits for adults, new and mounting research suggests that the electromagnetic (EMF) and radio frequency (RF) radiation emissions from cell phones and laptops are causing reduction in sperm motility and sperm DNA fragmentation (Avendano 2012), as well as acoustic neuromas (Hardell 2013). Placing radiation emitting devices which were classified in 2011 as “possible carcinogen ns” by the World Health Organizaion in close proximity to the most vulnerable members of our society, children, is sheer lunacy.

  1. The Last Generation of Children

Children are our future, yet what future is there in virtual reality? As technology use escalates, children and youth are encountering a more and more perilous real future due to detrimental effects of technology. Human ignorance and failure to recognize peril is common today, and reluctance to intervene will have lasting consequences for generations to come. When considering child sustainability, the concept of a negative feedback loop is applicable to help explain the profound implications of inaction. A negative feedback loop is present when society engages in a practice that they think is making the problem better, when in reality it’s having negative consequences and is making the problem worse. An example of a negative feedback loop affecting child sustainability would be provision of handheld technology. Well-meaning parents and teachers are thinking these devices are educating children, when really they are resulting in detrimental impairments to child health, learning, behavior, and socialization. Unfortunately, these negative feedback loops operate like undercurrents below the surface, and are therefore not immediately apparent. Research time delays often prohibit acquisition of essential knowledge, which may not be uncovered for years e.g. sedentary effects on obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular status, attention deficit effects on learning, displacement of the basic 3 R’s on declining literacy, and radio frequency radiation on long term health. Throwing more and more money and resources into an increasingly worsening problem, thinking these investments are making a difference, when really they are not, just defers and exacerbates these problems years into the future. The costs to education system for increased teacher supports, and to health system for treating technology addicted children families, as well as the extensive health effects from technology overuse, will be astronomical and unachievable. 21st century children are far from resilient, and will not survive.

A whole continent of irresponsible adults are placing children in an experiment of epic proportion. In ten years society may look back at this time of madness and weep, wondering why caution was not employed, and wishing they could reverse time and act to save this last generation of children now lost to technology. Technology overuse by children poses significant health and education risks, and requires immediate attention and action. Please act to ban handheld devices from children under the age of 12 years now. Sign this petition to show your support for this most important initiative.

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.