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

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

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

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

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

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.

Momo Is A Red Flag – The internet is not a safe nor a happy place for our children.

Diagnosis Rate and Rate of Change for Major Depression by Age

Despite police reports and pediatrician citations, the recent Momo Suicide Challenge was determined by media to be fake. Hoax or not, the resurfacing Momo Suicide Challenge presents parents, teachers and governments with a hard to ignore fact – the internet is not a safe place for children, and we’ve known for years that the internet is not making our children happy. In 2018 Blue Cross Blue Shield Association release findings showing a 64% rise in depression in teens between 2013 and 2016 with the Center for Disease Control reporting in 2016 a concurrent 30% rise in suicide. Jean Twenge’s 2017 research found that teens who spend five or more hours per day on their devices are 71 percent more likely to have one risk factor for suicide regardless of the content consumed. It is becoming increasing harder to ignore the real threats and harm posed to children and teens by spending long durations of unsupervised time in the virtual world. This failure to protect children and teens online originates with absolute disregard for child safety by the internet giants including WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube. These platforms consistently use faulty and ineffective algorithms to screen content, often relying instead on parents to report inappropriate content…after their children have been exposed. Following is a historical detailing of seemingly forgotten events of equal or greater importance to the Momo Suicide Challenge indicating that we have known for some time the internet is an unsafe and unhappy ‘virtual hole’ which many children and youth unsuspectingly are falling into. The rise in these scary events indicate the urgent need by parents, teachers and governments to get involved and hold our social media and video gaming designers responsible and demand immediate changes to the internet to improve safety for children and youth. Until such time, parents and teachers are wise to prohibit use of unsupervised internet use in homes and school environments. Our children have a right to be safe and happy.

The past few years have been marked by numerous disturbing events which have raised a few eyebrows, but surprisingly garnered only fleeting concerns by parents, teachers and governments. Everyone is likely to remember the 2014 stabbing death by two 12-year-olds in Wisconsin who reported ‘Slender’ (a fictional cartoon character) told them that they needed to kill their friend in order to protect their families. Following the recent Momo Suicide Challenge reports, Common Sense Media detailed that while there are many funny and harmless internet challenges posed to children, there are equally as many harmful ones including the Tide Pod Challenge where children are encouraged to eat Tide Pods, as well as the Choking/Fainting/Pass-Out Challenge where kids either choke other kids, press hard on their chests, or hyperventilate which has resulted in reported deaths. The Blue Whale Suicide Challenge during the summer of 2017 was instigated by a 21-year-old disturbed man who solicited teens through chat sites and enticed them to participate in a series of 50 tasks which ended ultimately with their suicide. While it is uncertain as to the total number of teens who did suicide as a result of this challenge, there are numerous personal stories brought to media by grieving parents to provide credible proof. Unbelievably, The Blue Whale Challenge still exists online as evidenced by Jan. 21, ’19 suicide by a 13-year-old girl in Turkey who shot and killed herself with parents citing her participation in The Blue Whale Challenge.

What many parents seem to miss is that Facebook, Whatsapp, and YouTube platforms themselves often perpetuate harm. Their automated moderation systems fail to flag inappropriate content and their skewed content-recommendation algorithms promote extremist beliefs. These platforms  don’t protect kids against cyberbullying from peers, they milk kids under the age of 13 for money and engagement, and they promote truly gruesome content. YouTube continually demonstrates an ongoing failure to keep harmful content off their kid’s channel. Businesses are putting pressure on YouTube to clean up their complicit role in harming children by pulling advertising citing proof of “pedophiles lurking in comments sections”. The disturbing Peppa Pig videos and those videos with suicide instructions are regrettably very real. One suicide instruction video was reported to media by Dr. Hess, pediatrician but is apparently unrelated to Momo. Parent and teacher Emily Cherkin brilliantly states in her ParentMap article “It should not take a viral prank (real or fake) to get us worried about what kids are seeing and doing online” and details the importance of parents and teachers openly discussing with children the “shady side” of the internet.

Parents and teachers do not trust technology giants who are making trillions of dollars through provision of internet content to be responsible. Until government intervenes to with regulations legislation to force the Tech Giants to quit using persuasive addiction design and faulty screening practices, this situation will only get worse. The internet is an ugly place where we do not want to “drop off” our children for the day, or even a minute. Let’s bring this errant Tech Train back to the station and give it some much needed repairs. In the meantime, put down your phone and go outside and play with your kids. They will love you for it.

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.