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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 2/14/17

Inviting Discussion About Safer Tech Use in Schools

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A list of educators, physicians and researchers who join Katie Singer and the EMRadiation Policy Institute in calling for safer use of technology in education is posted after the Endnotes.

In one generation, use of electronic technologies has exploded, creating dramatic environmental and cultural changes, including in classrooms. As we read, write, research, meet and express ourselves, electronics offer extraordinary possibilities. Meanwhile, to develop self-respect, empathy, humor, awareness of themselves and others and social skills, children still depend on human contact in a real (not virtual) world.

Electronics are tools, not substitutes for human teachers or peers. Every community still needs children who are familiar with the real world around them; who learn (from other people) to think critically and ethically; who are well versed in biology, chemistry, physics, literature, music and art. Students need to create and imagine from their own minds, not to follow a computer programmer's choices or direction. For healthy development, children need time without electronics, in nature, socializing with each other and contributing to their communities. Youth need purpose. They need to participate in person-to-person conversation about real world problem and solutions.

Prudent integration of technology use in classrooms requires that school-board members work with administrators, teachers and parents to clarify educational priorities, identify problems and determine best practices. Basing purchasing decisions solely on an IT director's recommendations may lead to technology dominating a classroom--rather than serving as a tool that enhances learning.

Indeed, most schools implement wide use of technology even though its effects (including among children) are largely unknown. Because no federal agency regulates children's use of electronics, schools must create their own guidelines.

This paper aims to encourage discussion about safer, more responsible use of technology in educational settings. It presents critical issues and options for consideration:

  1. Screen-time contact is no substitute for in-person relating. For healthy neurological, social and emotional development, infants, children and teenagers need to relate with adults, each other and the natural world. Because technology use can contribute to aggressive behavior, depression and neurological problems including autism, ADHD and addiction, users need to learn limits.
  2. Common educational software tracks students' preferences, interests, social contacts and locations. Software manufacturers collect this data from each student and can use it for lifelong marketing tools. Students and parents need protection from such tracking. Further, wireless technologies increase vulnerability to hacking. Schools therefore need wired Internet access.
  3. Wireless devices and infrastructure emit man-made electromagnetic radiation (EMR). Scientific studies have shown the high likelihood that EMR exposure causes brain and heart cancer, DNA damage, neurological harm, general malaise, medical implant malfunctioning and more. To reduce students' EMR exposure, schools need to provide wired Internet access.
  4. During a power outage, schools without a corded telephone on a copper legacy landline may be unable to reach first responders.
  5. Because current federal law regarding telecommunications prohibits municipalities from determining cellular antenna placement based on health or environmental concerns, parents, teachers and children may have little control over their EMR exposure. School communities need to exercise their rights to reduce their exposure within existing legal parameters.
  6. In the event of security breeches or health damages caused by school-issued computers, who is liable? To what extent can a school board ensure that students' data and health are safe? Before authorizing tech purchases, do school boards need to study whether computer use improves learning and/or harms development?

To begin discussion, school administrators, board members, teachers, parents and students might adopt a routine of asking questions such as:
* What are the long-term consequences of using electronic devices--to health (including brain development), social skills and community?
* Could we do this activity without an electronic device?
* How can we balance time at a screen, in nature and with others?
* How can we minimize exposure to man-made electromagnetic radiation?
* What steps might prevent tech addiction?
* What steps minimize hacking risks?
* Online, how/can we maintain privacy? Why/does privacy matter?
* Until what age (or the achievement of what skills) should children not learn computer coding or programming?
* Given federal and municipal mandates, what limits can schools and households reasonably impose to support safer tech use?

  1. Screen-time, addiction and ADHD

The situation: In the 1970s, four-year-olds who could delay eating a marshmallow for fifteen minutes (by singing to themselves, making up a game or napping) became more confident and skilled adults, more able to cope with stress.[1] Now, temptations are electrified. Microwaves (frequencies required for mobile devices to operate) increase activity of brain endorphins or endogenous opioids, the biological base of addiction to opium, alcohol and morphine.[2]

Like all electronics users, children need skills in delaying gratification (i.e. waiting to check messages) and limiting screen time.

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids--and How to Break the Trance, has found treating heroin and crystal meth addicts easier than "lost-in-the-matrix video gamers or Facebook-dependent social media addicts." Dr. Kardaras reports that one out of three children now uses a tablet or smartphone before they can talk.[3]

Integrative child psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley, MD, author of Reset Your Child's Brain, reports that screen time overloads the sensory system, fractures attention and depletes mental reserves. It desensitizes the brain's reward system, can increase suicide risk and reduce physical activity levels.[4] Even 30 minutes of computer use can disturb sleep; and interactive screen-time (playing video games and/or manipulating a screen with a keyboard, mouse or touch ) is more detrimental to brain development than non-interactive, passive TV watching.[5]

Pediatric occupational therapist Chris Rowan explains that technology use's
* sedentary nature is causally related to obesity, diabetes, developmental delay, illiteracy and learning difficulties.[6],[7],[8],[9]
* isolating factor can escalate mental illnesses including ADHD, autism and depression and create difficulties in self-regulation.[10],[11]
* overstimulation factors into ADHD, aggression, sleep disturbance and chronic stress.[12],[13],[14],[15]

Screen-time based sedentary behavior can contribute to childhood and adolescent depression.[16]

Using a portable screen device also impacts sleep.[17]

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Katie Singer writes about nature and technology in Letters to Greta. She spoke about the Internet's footprint in 2018, at the United Nations' Forum on Science, Technology & Innovation, and, in 2019, on a panel with the climatologist Dr. (more...)

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