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

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012). Handheld devices (cell phones, tablets, electronic games) have dramatically increased the accessibility and usage of technology, causing escalating usage, especially by very young children (Common Sense Media, 2013). Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist is calling on parents, teachers, and government to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years. Following are ten research evidenced reasons for this ban. Please visit zonein.ca to view the Zone’in Fact Sheet for referenced research.

  1. Rapid brain growth
    Between 0 and 2 years, infant’s brains triple in size, and continue in a state of rapid development to 21 years of age (Christakis 2011). Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli, or lack thereof. Stimulation to a developing brain caused by over exposure to technologies (cell phones, internet, iPads, TV), has been shown to negatively affect executive functioning, and cause attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity, and decreased ability to self-regulation e.g. tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010).
  2. Delayed Development
    Technology use restricts movement, resulting in delayed development. One in three children now enter school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting on literacy and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013). Movement enhances attention and learning ability (Ratey 2008). Use of technology under the age of 12 years, is detrimental to child development and learning (Rowan 2010).
  3. Epidemic Obesity
    TV and video game use correlates with increased obesity (Tremblay 2005). Children who are allowed a device in their bedrooms have 30% increased incidence of obesity (Feng 2011). One in four Canadian, and one in three U.S. children are obese (Tremblay 2011). 30% of children with obesity, will develop diabetes, and be at risk for early stroke and heart attack, gravely shortening life expectancy (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention 2010). Due to obesity, 21st century children may be the first generation many of whom will not outlive their parents (Professor Andrew Prentice, BBC News 2002).
  4. Sleep Deprivation
    60% of parents do not supervise their child’s technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation 2010). 75% of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades are detrimentally impacted (Boston College 2012).
  5. Mental Illness
    Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis, and problematic child behavior (Bristol University 2010, Mentzoni 2011, Shin 2011, Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008). One in six Canadian children have a diagnosed mental illness, many of whom are on dangerous psychotropic medication (Waddell 2007).
  6. Aggression
    Violent media content causes child aggression (Anderson 2007). Young children are increasingly exposed to rising incidence of physical and sexual violence in today’s media. Grand Theft Auto V portrays explicit sex, murder, rape, torture, and mutilation, as do many movies and TV shows. The U.S. has categorized media violence as a Public Health Risk due to causal impact on child aggression (Huesmann 2007). Media reports increased use of restraints and seclusion rooms with children who exhibit uncontrolled aggression (Vancouver Sun 2013).
  7. Digital dementia
    High speed media content causes attention deficit, as well as decreased concentration and memory, due to the brain pruning neuronal tracks to the frontal cortex (Christakis 2004, Small 2008). Children who can’t pay attention, can’t learn.
  8. Addictions
    As parents attach more and more to technology, they are detaching from their children. In the absence of parental attachment, detached children attach to devices, resulting in addiction (Rowan 2010). One in 11 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology (Gentlie 2009). Never in the history of humankind have there been child addictions.
  9. Radiation emission
    In May of 2011, the World Health Organization classified cellphones (and other wireless devices) as a category 2B risk (possible carcinogen) due to radiation emission (WHO 2011). James McNamee with Health Canada in October of 2011 issued a cautionary warning stating “Children are more sensitive to a variety of agents than adults as their brains and immune systems are still developing, so you can’t say the risk would be equal for a small adult as for a child” (Globe and Mail 2011). In December, 2013 Dr. Anthony Miller from the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health recommend that based on new research, radio frequency exposure should be reclassified as a 2A (probable carcinogen), not a 2B (possible carcinogen). American Academy of Pediatrics requested review of EMF radiation emissions from technology devices, citing 3 reasons regarding impact on children (AAP 2013).
  10. Unsustainable
    The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology.  A team based approach is necessary and urgent in order to reduce the use of technology by children. Please reference below slide shows on www.zonein.ca under Media Videos and share with others who are concerned about technology overuse by children.

Problems – Suffer the Children – 4 minutes

Solutions – Balanced Technology Management – 7 minutes

The following guidelines for technology use by children and youth were developed by Cris Rowan pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child, Dr. Andrew Doan neuroscientist and author of Hooked on Games and Dr, Hilarie Cash, Director of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program and author of Video Games and Your Kids, with contribution from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society in an effort to ensure sustainable futures for all children.

Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth

Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth6

Please click on image to enlarge.


Sad, Mad, and Bad – Child mental illness, or too much gaming

parentingOne of the most hotly debated topics by participants who attend the Foundation Series Workshops is the premise that children are not born mentally ill, but rather that society makes them that way through abuse or neglect. Failure of researchers to discover any physiological or genetic cause for mental illness resulted in the American Psychiatric Association, the National Institutes of Mental Health, and the DSM-5 to redirect mental health research away from nature toward nurture, or environmental influences (see January 2014 Newsletter commentary by Colin A. Ross Biology and Genetics in DSM-5). As a result of this recent shift in focus of mental health research, primary attachment between parent and child is receiving more and more attention, as attachment is an important determinant for child mental health and wellbeing. An all too common outcome associated with failure of primary attachment, is a diversity of challenging and problematic child behaviors. Sad, mad, and bad, it’s starting to look like maybe these one in six Canadian children with a diagnosed mental illness really are not “sick” after all. As parents (and teachers) attach more and more to technology, they detach from children, further exacerbating already existing attachment disorders, and propelling children into technology addictions at an alarming rate. This article by pediatric occupational therapist Cris Rowan explores the origins of child mental illness, and directs child health and education teams away from the ‘old school’ child mental illness model, toward more healthy, environmentally driven strategies that build child and family capacity, resiliency, and wellness.

As with any complex problem, the solution is never easy, nor is it ever just one problem with one quick fix. Overuse of technology has caused significant detrimental impact in child physical, social, and academic domains, and is a major contributor to the recent rise in child mental health disorders, in particular anxiety, depression and attention deficit. Child mental illness has many key players, and fortunately this means many people to help out with identifying causal factors for sad, mad, and bad children, and determining multiple solutions. When addressing improving child mental and physical health, there are six major groups who most influence a child’s life: parents, educators, health providers, government, researchers, and corporations – technology and pharmaceutical. The remainder of this article will highlight proposed initiatives in these six sectors to improve child physical and mental health, behaviour, socialization and ability to learn.


The primary people regarding child mental health and illness are of course the child’s parents and/or caregivers, as they spend the majority of time with the child. One fact often missed is that the sad, mad or bad child is rarely the person with the problem, generally the whole family needs help. Consequently, identifying family issues that affect child behaviour require trained health and education teams to do home visits. In the home, therapists can not only more easily uncover salient issues impacting child behaviour, but also more effectively treat the whole family. Unfortunately, home visits are a rarity these days, and working parents and busy lifestyles limit offering service in home environments. So how can we reach parents to provide information, as well as assess their relationship with their child, if we can’t get into the home? Educational workshops tend to attract some parents, as do health fairs, especially if the event offers door prizes or raffles. Flyers rarely get read, as do school newsletters. Educating children and youth regarding detrimental impact of technology in school-based media literacy programs effectively offers essential information to one key player, who might bring it home to their family. Regardless of the avenue of education, in this day and age of problematic child behaviours, the health and educational professionals will need to assess and treat the whole family.


Teachers are the second most important persons in a child’s life, as they may actually spend more time with a child than the parents. When attachment has failed between parent and child, the teacher can become a primary attachment figure, and hence may be the only adult in the child’s life who can role model functional attachment and relationships. Teachers who heavily rely on technology as a primary teaching tool, are rarely emotionally present for their students, and as a result, the children connect to technology to fulfill their attachment needs. Eye contact, non-judgemental listening, and realistic expectations are effective attachment techniques that when used by a teacher, can mean a world of difference to detached and neglected children. Teacher adherence to applying the four critical factors for optimizing child development and learning daily, will not only enhance literacy, but also improve problematic behavior. Movement, touch, human connection, and nature can be achieved through access to playgrounds, gyms, and sensory-motor enriched classrooms.

Health Professionals

In my experience as a pediatric occupational therapist who works in daycare/preschool, school, home, and clinic settings, rarely if ever do health professionals assess and provide intervention for attachment disorders, nor do they screen for technology usage. Yet, the health professional is a major team player when attaining a mental illness diagnosis and psychotropic medication for problematic children. When addressing children who are sad, mad, or bad with problematic behaviors, Gabor Mate said “See their pain, listen to their story”, instead of reaching for the quick fix by pulling out a prescription pad. Supporting “One Nation under Therapy” initiatives might secure jobs for all health professionals in the future, but this is not a sustainable model, nor will it ensure sustainable futures for children. Health professionals have so much more to offer children than diagnosis and drugs. It’s time to slow down, look, and listen to children, before it’s too late. Providing all children and their families with a technology screen will secure important information regarding behaviors associated with technology overuse. Following technology screening with education, as well as effective tools and strategies to reduce family use of technology is imperative. Parents simply cannot do what they’vot been taught.


Having met with policy makers in three different BC Ministries regarding concerns associated with child technology overuse, I cannot understand why they have failed to act to protect our children. Video game production companies continue to produce games that have proven immensely harmful to children, and Fisher Price continues to make technology mounted devices for babies and toddlers (iPoddy, iCar Seat, iTeething Ring). Production of baby TV and baby Apps continue to soar, as does pornography accessed by the very young. As the pharmaceutical industry increases marketing strategies targeting child behaviors, our children grow more obese, developmentally delayed, aggressive, depressed, anxious, attention deficit, and learning disabled. Mandated technology product risk warnings, regulated video gaming and pharmaceutical industries, and public education must begin immediately if we are to create sustainable futures for our children.


As research mounts regarding detrimental impact of technology on child development and learning, why is this information not being assimilated and acted on by parents, health providers, and government? For the past five years the Zone’in Child Development Newsletter has distributed a monthly newsletter to a database of 20,000 health and education professionals, collated research in the area of impact of technology on children. Could not child development and learning researchers do the same initiative, and coordinate their efforts with media outlets, for release of evidence based, simple to read, factual research? Through the Foundation Series Workshops I’ve had the opportunity to speak with thousands of parents, health and education professionals who all state “If I’d only known sooner” when presented with research facts. With sufficient evidence to support numerous initiatives designed to reduce the use of technology by children, it is the responsibility of researchers to educate government and media regarding the perils of technology overuse, and make sufficient guidelines to regulate both the video gaming and pharmaceutical industries. How many children need to die of obesity, suicide, and violence before these guidelines are initiated?

Video Game and Pharmaceutical Industries

Class action lawsuits against both the video game and pharmaceutical industries have begun, and will continue to escalate, quite similar to Tabaco litigation which is ongoing today. When both these industries are quite aware of the damage their products are causing to children, how long can they continue to pull the wool over their own eyes and act as if they have no part in the ongoing degradation of 21st century children and their families? The misdirected blame that technology overuse by children is the parent’s responsibility, just doesn’t make sense when parents themselves are demonstrating significant addictions and problematic technology overuse. With Grand Theft Auto V added torture to its list of rape, murder, gross porn, and mutilation, with the full knowledge that very young children are exposed to these games, they crossed a line that is beyond “freedom of expression”. When Iceland, Scotland, and the UK have acted to ban internet pornography because little children are acting out sexually violent acts on other little children, in North America industry gets ever more illicit. When the UK and Australia are banning the use of psychotropic medication with children, North America distributes 95% of the world’s stimulant medication. This flagrant abuse of children by the video game and pharmaceutical industries has got to stop.

In the realm of ensuring sustainable futures for our children, everyone has a role to play. I encourage all those interested to make a commitment to the concept of managing balance between child technology use and healthy activities. Termed Balanced Technology Management (BTM), formation of BTM teams comprised of like-minded individuals from each of the six aforementioned sectors will launch forward life sustaining initiatives for both children and families. We can do this!

Sad, Mad and Bad was written by pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, and author Cris Rowan, CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc. www.zonein.ca. Formulate a BTM Team and work toward sustainable futures for children in your community now! Please follow link to BTM Forum page for more information.

Ten reasons to NOT use technology in schools for children under the age of 12 years


Technology education

Refuse to Use is a world-wide Movement by responsible and futuristic thinking parents and teachers to ban all school-based technology for children under 12 years of age, and bring back tried and true methods of teaching. The 0-12 years are formative for brain and body development, and are a fragile time when deprivation and damage can be permanent. Four critical factors for enhancing child development, behaviour, and learning are movement, touch, connection, and nature. Technology stops children from engagement in these critical factors. Technology is sedentary, isolating, overstimulating, and results in child neglect, causing delays in child development, problematic and difficult to manage behaviours, as well as limited attention and learning ability. Teachers teach, not technology. Join the Refuse to Use Movement by reading “Ten reasons to NOT use technology in schools for children under the age of 12 years”, and signing below petition to show your support.

  1. They don’t need it. In fact, education technology appears to be doing more harm than good in the areas of literacy and overall academic performance. If education technology is so great, why has Canada dropped out the top 10 to 13th, and the US is ranked 27th on the PISA, a global test for math, science, and reading (PISA 2013)? Half of grade eight students do not demonstrate job entry literacy (National Center for Education Statistics 2010). Use it or you lose it rings true with today’s fast paced technology, which doesn’t appear to require frontal lobe activity, causing atrophy in the very area of the brain that should be growing (Dunckley V 2014). Termed the ‘Learning Paradox’ e.g. the more you use it, the less likely you are to learn, indicates that today’s students are quite possibly only as smart as their device.
  1. Not research evidenced. While education technology holds promise for the future, too much too soon has been shown to have perilous consequences. While every parent would like their child to grow up with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful as an adult, pushing apps around a screen at one year of age, is likely to result in exactly the opposite. The face of technology will change significantly over the next 5-10 years. Teaching tech to toddlers now, is senseless and vastly detrimental to the developing brain and body.
  1. It’s not proven to be safe.Children are being forced by schools to absorb potentially harmful radiation without choice or parental consent. In 2011, the World Health Organization classified radiation emitted from technology devices, including lap tops, cell phones, tablets, wifi, routers, to be a Class 2B carcinogen (WHO 2011). Health Canada followed with warnings to parents to use “precautionary measures” regarding technology use, and to not allow children under 12 to carry cell phones in their pockets. In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics requested the Federal Trade Commission to reinvestigate radiation effects on children, citing thinner skulls, more aqueous brain tissue, and rapidly dividing cells (AAP 2013). Recent 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). Without long term data demonstrating safety, continuing to expose children to devices categorized as possible carcinogens, seems beyond all common sense or reason, and is an infringement of individual right and freedom from harm. Would schools continue in this manner, if they were to be held personally responsible for their actions? School wifi waver forms can be found at Citizens for Safe Technology website.
  1. Pediatrician guidelines actively ignored. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society released policy stating the following limits: no technology exposure for 0-2 years, 1 hour/day for 3-5 years, and 2 hours/day 6-18 years, yet the average child uses 4-5 times that amount of entertainment technology before they even get to school (AAP 2014). Additional school-based education technology usage is estimated to average 2-3 hours per day. How can this happen? Teachers, school boards, parent advisory committees…right on up to the highest levels of education government have not only sanctioned escalating usage, but are encouraging it. To actively ignore policy put in place by two of the world’s largest pediatric organizations who represent all the pediatricians in North America, is not only unethical and unprofessional, but could in the near future, be considered an indictable offence.
  1. Sedentary bodies can’t learn.Research abounds that exercise enhances attention and learning (Ratey J 2008), yet schools continue to restrict movement through recess reduction and boring playgrounds. Yet…provision of sedentary, expensive, and useless technology explodes. As sedentary lifestyles become the norm, developmental delay and obesity escalate, right along with inability to pay attention and learn.
  1. Highly anxious children can’t learn. Anxiety is the fastest growing child mental illness. Technology isolates children from not only the attentions of parent and teacher, but also from potential cooperative learning with other students. Immersion in a virtual world that is fast paced, immediate, “me” focused, reward-based, and totally in the student’s control, causes immense transition difficulties back into the real world. Waiting, taking turns, and socializing with other children, are feared and difficult for the tech immersed child. Poor self-regulation, tantrums, impulsivity, aggression, and explosive violence in North American children are now the norm. Selfie was the 2013 word of the year.
  1. Impossible to manage and monitor. A Los Angeles school had to recall all its iPads from students as it couldn’t keep them from accessing porn, video games, facebooking and texting. Teachers and parents like to console themselves by thinking children are doing their homework. Well…they aren’t. 95% of time children spend on tech devices is for mindless entertainment purposes, not education.
  1. Highly addictive. A 2009 study indicated 1 out of 11 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology (Gentile D 2009). Never in the history of humankind have there been child addictions. Difficult and expensive to treat, in the near future, this will be the job of every health and education professional…addressing student tech addictions. Schools wouldn’t give children cocaine or crack, yet they readily hand out an equally as damaging and addictive device to students on a daily basis. Starting now to restrict usage in school settings, would send a message to students and parents that it is imperative to reduce the use of technology, before it’s too late.
  1. Displaces the basics. Remember the 3 R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic? Teaching printing is passé, and reading and math instruction are increasingly relegated to 2-dimentional screens. Yet whenever a child is tested prior to age 12 years, on any subject, they’re expected to be proficient with printing. When children learn to print, they create a visual memory for later letter recognition for reading. When they practice printing over and over, their printing speeds get fast, allowing them to free up their brains for spelling, sentence production, and math. Not teaching children to print ensures illiteracy and academic failure. If adults were told to print all day every day in a foreign language, but not given proper instruction or teaching, how long would they continue this insane task? Students who do not demonstrate subconscious motor planning for letters and numbers by grade 3, are very slow printers, hate school, and resist all subjects requiring printing output.
  1. Not sustainable. The ways in which parents and teachers are raising and educating children with technology are not sustainable. It’s time to bring the tech train back to the station and rethink who, what, when, where, why and how parameters to safely and effectively use technology with children. Join the Refuse to Use Movement petition below to stop use of school-based technology with children under the age of 12 years until such time as research indicates safety and efficacy.

Refuse to Use Movement

Refuse to Use is a world-wide Movement by responsible and futuristic thinking parents and teachers to ban all school-based technology for children under 12 years of age, and bring back tried and true methods of teaching. The 0-12 years are formative for brain and body development, and are a fragile time when deprivation and damage can be permanent. Four critical factors for enhancing child development, behaviour, and learning are movement, touch, connection, and nature. Technology stops children from engagement in these critical factors. Technology is sedentary, isolating, overstimulating, and results in child neglect, causing delays in child development, problematic and difficult to manage behaviours, as well as limited attention and learning ability. Teachers teach, not technology. Join the Refuse to Use Movement by reading “Ten reasons to NOT use technology in schools for children under the age of 12 years”, and signing below petition to show your support.


197 signatures

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Referenced research can be located on Zone’in Fact Sheet now available in English and Spanish versions.

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.

Teen Playgrounds – Improving youth health, learning, behavior, and socialization

TRX Equipment

Imagine you’re a teen in a small Northern community, walking around town in the early evening with your friends. You’ve got your face buried in your cell phone, nothing to do, nowhere to go, yet you’ve got energy to burn and you’re looking for some action. Ripe for getting into some trouble, you turn a corner and there in front of you is a Teen Playground complete with basketball hoop, volleyball court, exercise circuit, and Barstarzz bars. You look around further and find some TRX Training equipment anchored to the side of a building, right next to a climbing wall, some rotation pods, more cool things to climb on, and spring swings! Wow! How many of you would stop whatever you were doing and start to play? Pretty hard to resist trying at least one or two of these devices, and if you’re in a group, the pull to outdo each other would be strong. Whether you’re overweight, have delayed development, or have never engaged in physical activity before (the plight of today’s youth), the Teen Playground provides both individual and group based equipment that challenge youth at their own physical level.

Healthbeat exercise equipment 1   Healthbeat exercise equipment 4   Healthbeat exercise equipment 3   Healthbeat exercise equipment 2

Healthbeat Exercise Equipment

Barstarzz Equipment   trx   climbing wall

Barstarzz Bars                                 TRX Training Equipment                          Climbing Wall

Habitat Systems 1    Habitat Systems 2    surgeswing_product_rev

Habitat Systems playground equipment for youth

Research shows that exercise improves not only cardiovascular fitness, reducing risk of obesity and diabetes, but also improves mental health, reduces truancy, and enhances attention and learning (see Zone’in Fact Sheet for collated research references). These types of devices build strong core and motor coordination, resulting in improved printing, reading, and numerical literacy. Once the cell phones go in the pockets, teens start to socialize, helping them to feel more confident and less lonely. Teen playgrounds also offer youth the opportunity to expend some of that pent up, hyperactive, and often aggressive energy that builds up playing video games.

A thought to ponder is whether adhd is a mental illness, or a sign that children and youth just need to go outside and play. Recent issues arose in Vancouver BC as an advocacy group for children with disabilities released the results of a survey which revealed that numerous schools in the lower mainland were locking children into seclusion rooms, some for as long as 3 hour durations (see “Ban ‘isolation rooms’ in schools, B.C. advocate group urges” under Research and News section, December 2013 Child Development Series Newsletter). As problematic child and youth behaviors escalate, the propensity of the health and education systems to diagnose and medicate, or use restraints and seclusion rooms, rises. Diagnostic and medication procedures are costly, ineffective in most cases, and dangerous. Teen Playgrounds on the other hand are inexpensive, effective, and while a few youth might get hurt, their wounds will heal quickly. As Dr. Michael Rich pediatric researcher, quotes “I’d rather see a broken arm than a broken spirit”, one can easily see that the costs of a teen playground are minimal when considering the enormous mental and physical health benefits, reduced truancy, as well as improved attention and learning.

I’m presently working with a number of First Nations communities to establish these types of teen playgrounds in their communities. I’ve talked with hundreds of youth in the process who all report to me that there is nothing to do and nowhere to go to have fun in their community. When I show them pictures of this type of equipment, they all resoundingly say that they would definitely put down the tech and go outside and play if these devices were in their community.

How long can we continue to deny our youth what they sorely need and want, while instead turning to quick fixes of diagnosis and medication? How long can we turn a blind eye to the fact that our children and youth are suffering, and have never been sicker than they are today, largely due to technology overuse. How long can we continue to hide behind our own technology addictions, pushing device use onto our children and youth in both home and school settings? The ways in which we are raising and educating our children and youth with technology are not sustainable. Teen Playgrounds are a “best bang for buck” initiative to manage balance between healthy activity and technology.

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist and advocate for children and youth. Cris is CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc. providing products, workshops, training, and consultation services for parents, teachers, and health professionals. For additional information please visit www.zonein.ca.

Technology and Spirituality: Education Advancements in First Nations Communities

Algonguin Elder William Commanda, from Mamiwinini, Canada stated in 1991…

girl smallTraditional people of Indian nations have interpreted the two roads that face the light-skinned race as the road to technology and the road to spirituality. We feel that the road to technology…. has led modern society to a damaged and seared earth. Could it be that the road to technology represents a rush to destruction, and that the road to spirituality represents the slower path that the traditional native people have traveled and are now seeking again? The earth is not scorched on this trail. The grass is still growing there.

I have had the opportunity to spend the past year offering Foundation Series Workshops in four First Nations communities, funded by a grant from Vancouver Coast Health. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on this process of “education”, and share with you the knowledge and gifts bestowed upon me by First Nations peoples, who touched and moved me in ways that were often far beyond my comprehension. Enjoy, and take joy in what was my experience of a lifetime.

While I’ve worked in many First Nations communities previously, this past year I was allowed the opportunity to gather together and have many conversations with literally hundreds of First Nations children, youth, parents, elders, caregivers, and workers from health, education, and social sectors. While there to offer foundational information about ways to enhance child development and learning, my workshops transformed into a process of information exchange, morphing into rich dialogue containing dreams, hopes, and visions for future First Nations children and youth. What started as educational workshops, turned into a forum where all participants were invited to share not only their immediate concerns for their children, but also share their ideas and visions for creating a better and more sustainable future for First Nations children and their families. What follows is excerpted information from participant information offered during education workshops, collated workshop evaluations, and from comments during meetings with First Nations peoples from four First Nations communities in British Columbia.

Children and Youth

I had the opportunity to meet with numerous children in daycare/preschool, school, home, community, and clinic settings, as well as spoke with many children and youth in large gatherings in gyms, classrooms, and libraries. The general format of my presentation termed “Tech Talk” was to offer information about what type of activities children and youth need to grow optimally and succeed in school, with focus on activities that include movement, touch, human connection, and nature. I then talked about the negative impact of technology (TV, internet, cell phones) on achieving this optimal growth and academic success. I talked about the impact of tech on four human domains: physical, mental, social, and spiritual, and ended the presentation with the question “What could there be in your community that would make you put down the tech, and go outside and play”? All ages of children and youth resoundingly said “swings” in answer to my question, and went on to talk about how there is nothing for them to do outside, and how the play and gathering spaces are either non-existent, dilapidated, or did not contain engaging or “fun” equipment.  Children wanted higher, faster, and more physically challenging equipment, and suggested a variety of swings and slides, spider net climbing frames, parallel and ladder poles, merry-go-rounds, spring devices, platform float with slide for swimming in summer, and cement course to accommodate bikes, skateboards, and a water park. Youth requested forest bike trails to destination places such as covered fire pit or picnic areas, basketball nets, volleyball court, street hockey court, skateboard park, outdoor gym equipment including stair climber, elliptical, treadmill, bike, and a variety of pipe/bar formations e.g. parallel, ladder, different heights for doing isometric exercises (google Barstarzz).


Education sessions for parents were similar in format to the presentations for children and youth, and followed the format of providing information regarding critical factors for child development and learning, and resulting impact of technology on those factors. Many parents reported they had no idea of the perils associated with technology overuse by children, especially in the area of the impact of video gaming on child aggression. Sessions for parents ended with the question “What could there be in your community that would encourage you to let your children go outside and play”? Parents responded with concerns regarding prevalence of bears, wolves, and cougar, posing obvious safety risks for their children if unattended. When asked “What could there be in your community that would make you put down the tech and go outside WITH your children”? parents responded that there is nothing for them to do outside, there is nowhere to sit, it’s raining all the time and they get wet, and there is no one to talk to. When asked if there were covered areas containing benches, picnic tables, and outdoor exercise equipment located at parks, beaches and playgrounds, would they go outside and play with their children, and there was a resounding “Yes”! When asked if there was fencing and lighting for playgrounds, increasing safety from wildlife, would they allow their children to go outside and play unattended, some parents agreed that this would relieve their fears.


The elders who attended the workshops spoke of their concerns regarding technology overuse by both their children who are now adults, and their grandchildren, and reported that they are especially worried about extensive and prolonged use of video games and texting by both the parents and children. The elders in one community talked about how when they were children there used to be organized activities at night, held in the local hall or church, attended by all the families in the village where families would come together to do crafts, eat, dance, and do sport-type activities. The elders spoke about how their time in the residential schools deprived them of any type of play activities, and that they as a result didn’t know how to play with their children, nor their grandchildren. Two elders told me that they also didn’t touch or hug their children, due to the touch they received as children in the residential schools was harmful, but now see how important it is to use safe touch and hug their children and grandchildren.


Daycare, pre-school and school staff reported they had not understood the importance of movement and nature on enhancing development, literacy, and learning, and immediately started to take their children outside to play on a more regular basis. Staff appeared especially interested in the use of proprioceptive (muscle contraction), vestibular (movement off centre), and tactile (deep pressure) stimulation to improve core stability and motor coordination for eventual printing and reading, to calm anxiety and optimize attention and learning ability, as well as to act as an “energy dump” for pent up energy that often results in problematic behaviour. Teachers also stated they did not know how and why primary children need to learn to print, and that instruction should be at least 45 minutes per day for grades K-3. My consultation service regarding improved playground spaces and funding for such, as well as increase printing instruction, is still ongoing in two of the four First Nations communities.

Health Providers

Information provided in the area of managing balance between critical factors for child development and learning, with technology use, was new information for the majority of health providers. In three of the four communities, decisions were made by health providers to enact an initiative called Crash-N-Bump, which is a program designed to enhance sensory, motor and attachment development for children ages 0-10 years designed by myself and pediatric registered nurse Susan Lansdowne. Crash-N-Bump is already operational one day per week in one First Nation community hall, and consists of 8 stations children rotate through, challenging their sensory and motor systems, and building attachment with their parents and caregivers. Crash-N-Bump consists of two bouncy castles and a variety of suspended equipment, and is attended by the majority of this First Nation’s children, as well as draws in approximately 10% of the existing parent population. Crash-N-Bump is currently being expanded to the 10-18 year youth population due to demand from youth for this type of activity. Information is still being developed in the area of parent technology screening and information tools, including brochures, posters, and workshop materials. Health professionals have requested provision of one hour Foundation Series Workshops for continued provision of this information to parents.

Future Endeavors

In order to carry on with planning initiatives to enhance child development and learning, focus groups were formed in each First Nations community. Focus groups were provided with a template funding proposal to use to gain support for identified initiatives to enhance child development and learning in three areas: early intervention (0-6 years), school age (6-18 years) and community (0-elder age). I intend to continue to work with First Nations focus groups to continue to identify child enhancement initiatives for these three target sectors, and work toward gaining necessary funding to implement community identified initiatives.

Biography of William Commanda excerpted from Reflections Outdoors

William Commanda, OC (Anishnabe name: Ojigkwanong) is an Algonquin elder, born November 11, 1913 in Kitigan-zibi, Quebec (Garden River/Riviere Desert), near Maniwaki, Quebec, 130 kilometres (81 miles) north of Ottawa in the Gatineau River valley. Commanda is the great-grandson of Chief Pakinawatik who led his people in 1854 from the Lake of theTwoMountainsto Réserve de la Rivière Désert, also known as the Kitigan-zibi Reserve, along the Gatineau River. Commanda worked as a guide, trapper and woodsman, a birch bark canoe maker and craftsman. Commanda was Keeper of several Algonquin Wampum Shell Belts which held records of prophecies, history, treaties and agreements. The three Wampum Belts under his care are:

  • the Seven Fires Prophecy Belt;
  • the Jay Treaty Border Crossing Belt; and
  • the Three Figure Welcoming/Agreement Wampum Belt.

Commanda served as Band Chief of the Kitigan-zibi Anishinabeg First Nation from 1951 to 1970. In 1987 at the fourth First Ministers Conference on inherent rights and self-government for Aboriginal people, Commanda began teaching about the messages of the wampum belts. He was invited in 1990 to provide a traditional blessing of the Canadian Human Rights Monument in Ottawa with the Dalai Lama. In 1998, Commanda participated in a ceremony at which he presented Nelson Mandela with an eagle feather on behalf of the First Nations of Canada. That same year, Commanda organized Elders Without Borders, a gathering of Aboriginal Elders and spiritual leaders from both North and South America.

In 2008, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.