Moving to Learn

Suicide by Screens – The impact of Tech Neglect on child and youth

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Canadian children ages 10-19 years. The suicide rate for Canadian girls age 10-14 has doubled over the past 30 year period, as has the rate for teens age 15-19 years. While suicide rate for boys has decreased 25-50%, boys die by suicide 2-3 times more frequently than girls. A college who works in a pediatric hospital recently told me that her most frequent referral for inpatient admission is for attempted suicide, the youngest being 9 years of age. The reasons behind his unprecedented rise in suicide by Canadian youth are most likely complicated and multifactorial, but no one can dispute that there is a ‘sadness’ of epic proportion seeping insidiously across our great nation. In the near future, teen suicide will likely be termed ‘epidemic’, right alongside child obesity (1 in 4), mental illness (1 in 7), developmental delay (1 in 3), sleep deprivation (3 in 4), attention deficit (1 in 5), autism (1 in 49), and learning disability (2 in 4). Concurrent with declining mental and physical health of Canadian children, is a rise in use of entertainment-based technologies, with teens using an average of 9 hours per day. Tech addiction rates are now at 1 in 11 for the 8-18 age population. Sedentary, overstimulated, isolated and neglected, the ways in which we are raising and educating new millennium children with technology, are no longer sustainable. We have become a society of parents, educators, and health professionals who no longer appear interested in promoting child wellness. So attached are we to our own devices, a wave of Tech Neglect is sweeping across our nation, with children and youth struggling to survive.

In my clinical work as a pediatric occupational therapist in daycares, preschools, and school-based settings, I am witnessing escalating use of not only dubious, poorly researched, industry driven ‘EdTech’, but also unrestricted and prevalent use of entertainment-based tech. Despite our lovely spring weather, children are allowed to stay inside during lunch, recess and breaks, obsessed with their ubiquitous ‘device’. Children watching movies, playing violent video games, sexting, facebooking, and watching pornography are a daily occurrence, with teachers reporting they no longer feel ‘in control’ of what students do on their personal devices. In my workshops I hear teachers stories of trying to confiscate personal devices, receiving a stream of ongoing defiance, aggression, and even one student calling 911, requesting police to come to the school and “arrest” his teacher. An interesting note is that parents and teachers who report they don’t have any problems managing their child/student technology usage, are observed time and again to be high users of their own device. Both health and education administrations and government respond to my numerous attempts to provide informative research and suggestions for management initiatives by either ignoring me, or responding with a counter argument e.g. technology is the “way of the future” and therefore support continued escalating use.

An important consideration is to look at projections for these escalating trends. Stephanie Seneff, Senior Research Scientist at MIT reported that when taken into consideration the escalating autism rates of 1 in 49 boys in 2014, up from 1 in 68 boys in 2013, by 2025 autism will soar to 1 in 2 boys. While Skinner and McFaull report an overall drop in suicide rate of 1% in children and youth, suicide by suffocation by girls has increased by 8%. When we see multiple trends increasing in the areas of mental and physical health e.g. developmental delay, obesity/diabetes, depression, anxiety, adhd, autism, sleep deprivation, learning difficulties, illiteracy…all related to technology overuse, then doesn’t it seem obvious that we will see a concurrent rise in suicide? As parents and teachers grow every more attached to their devices, they are detaching from children and youth. Termed Tech Neglect, the 21st century is likely to go down as being known for the worst treatment by adults of children and youth in the history of humankind. Mahatma Gandhi is reported to have said, “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its weakest members.” Our civilization is certainly not measuring up to previous high standards of care for our children and youth.

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., providing products, workshops, staff training, and consultation services in the area of technology overuse by children. Cris can be reached at

Research References

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  • Common Sense Media – Media Use Census. (2015). U.S. teens use an average of 9 hours of media per day. Available at:
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Cris Rowen

Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi, SIPT

Cris Rowan is a biologist, pediatric occupational therapist and sensory specialist with expertise in the impact of technology on child development, behaviour and learning. Having worked in school settings for over 3 decades, Cris is committed to improving student health while also easing the job of learning for children. Cris is a well-known international speaker and author to teachers, parents and therapists globally on topics of sensory integration, learning, attention, fine motor skills and the impact of media content including video games, social media and pornography on children’s brain and body development. Cris has a BSc’s both in Occupational Therapy and in Biology, is a SIPT certified sensory specialist, and has Approved Provider Status for CEU provision with the American Occupational Therapy Association. Over the past 3 decades, Cris has provided over 350 keynotes and workshops, writes monthly articles for her blog Moving to Learn, publishes the monthly Child Development Series Newsletter, and is designer and creator of Reconnect Webinars which offer research evidenced information for teens, parents, teachers and clinicians to manage balanced between screens and healthy activities. Cris is member of the Screens in Schools committee with Fairplay for Kids, member of the Institute for Digital Media and Child Development and sits on the Board of Directors for the Global Alliance for Brain and Heart Health. Cris has two adult children, Matt and Katie who grew up without screens.

Cris can be reached at Reconnect Webinars offers a free, 5.5-hour CCAP accredited Screenbuster Program training webinar for teens which qualifies them to perform Tech Talks for their peers. The Screenbuster Program requires one counsellor, teacher or principal to complete the 3-day Balanced Technology Management certification CEU provided course in order to adequately supervise the teens.

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One Response

  1. Many parents have been convinced that preteens and teens should disappear to their rooms to live their lives on phones talking with peers, believing that older kids need tech and peers more than their family. But cut off from family, living in a cyber world of harassment and pressure to sext, our kids inevitably have problems, one of them being thoughts of suicide. Thanks for this Cris.

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