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EMF Studies

26 March 2017

Inviting Discussion About Safer Tech Use in Schools

Inviting Discussion About Safer Tech Use in Schools
by Katie Singer, 
www.electronicsilentspring.com, Originally posted 7 February 2017

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 problems 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. . 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?
* Could we balance screen-time with time 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]

“Distracted” walking and driving injuries and fatalities are on the rise. A Mayo Clinic study finds that text messaging appears to produce a unique brainwave form that can cause epileptic and nonepileptic seizures. This “texting rhythm” was also found in iPad users.[18]

* Minimize use of electronic devices until reading, writing and math skills are established on paper.
* Do not offer computer time as a reward, a babysitter or pacifier.
* Ban cell phones in classrooms. Some schools ban them during hallway and lunch breaks, confiscate the phone for 1-30 days with the first violation, and, with the second violation, until the school year ends. Bans require school board support and sufficient warning to parents and students. At Monte del Sol (charter high school) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Principal Dr. Robert Jessen reports that with the ban, students face teachers during class and talk to each other during lunch breaks. A study from the Univ. of Texas and Louisiana State Univ. found that test scores rose by up to 6% in schools with strict cell phone bans.[19]
* Teach parents and students to identify symptoms of excessive screen time: aggressive behavior, disrupted academic or social performance. If use becomes problematic, consider Dr. Dunckley’s three-week electronic fast to “detox” and determine the student’s healthy tech threshold.[20]
* Encourage movement, hiking, sports, chess, book reading, hand-writing, theatrical productions, painting, pottery-making, conflict resolution skills, research by in-person interviews, playing music, learning a second language, composting kitchen scraps and growing and preparing food.
* According Jocelyn Glei, author of Unsubscribe: How to Kill Email Anxiety, Avoid Distraction and Get Real Work Done, on average, people check email eleven times per hour. Such frequency decreases productivity. To help children develop healthy work habits, teach them to check email in batches–say two or three times per day.
* Provide Wi-Fi-free and tech-free areas for students and staff.
* Encourage teachers and parents to model self-awareness and self-regulation around screen-time limits.

* Create “Personal Tech Contracts” and ongoing discussions about responsible tech use.[21],[22]
* Establish “crews” that meet daily over years with the same students and teachers to help children build real relationships.
* Encourage discussion about how tech influences our relationships.
* Recognize the danger of texting while driving. Encourage students and families to pledge to stop texting and driving. Texting takes your eyes off the road for an average of five seconds. At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field–completely blind. Car crashes caused by texting and driving kill an average of eleven teens each day and injure 330,000 people every year.[23]
* Invite discussion: What is addiction? What are signs of tech addiction? What do camps in China do to remedy tech addiction?[24] What steps prevent tech addiction? What screen-time limits are healthy for you?
* Read and discuss Jerry Mander’s Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, Quill, 1978.
* View and discuss “Screenagers,” Delaney Ruston, MD’s documentary about teen cell phone use. www.screenagersmovie.com
Security and Privacy

The situation: School-issued computers likely collect info about students’ Social Security numbers, food preferences, friends’ names, grades and discipline records. School-issued computers may contain geo-trackers that provide students’ exact locations. Without regulations, manufacturers (i.e. Apple and Pearson) who sell computers and software to schools may collect students’ info to create “data-mined profiles” for lifetime marketing tools.

Further, according to applied physicist Dr. Ronald M. Powell, “The second you go wireless, you expose yourself to greater risk of interception. Fiber optic systems (fios) will always be able to carry data faster and more securely than any wireless system.” Staff and student data can be hacked.[25],[26] Thirteen percent of educational organizations have been hacked–more than three times the rate of ransomware (payment for releasing data taken “hostage”) found in healthcare and more than that of the financial sector.[27]

Computer-based assessments of students and Smarter Balanced Test Scores have led to unfair test administration, security and privacy issues related to test data, violation of students’ rights, delivery of tests on faulty networks and technology, and long-term motivational problems that likely result from misdiagnosing students with unfit assessments.[28],[29]

* Eliminate wireless service and devices. Opt for fiber optics (fios) and wired phones, computers, mice and printers. For affordable fiber connections, see Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society’s Maximizing K-12 Fiber Connectivity Through E-Rate.[30]
* Teach users not to use physical addresses or birthdates in email addresses or passwords, not to reply to email from strangers, and to open an attachment only when you know the sender and expect the attachment.
* Teach staff and students that each device (i.e. a tablet, chromebook, or smartphone) has its own security practice.
* Establish email security protocols, monitor key third party vendors, track vendors’ security ratings and avoid file sharing.

* Interview people who’ve been hacked. What happened? What advice do they have to prevent hacking?

Invite discussion: Do you prefer mobility (which risks hacking) or wired-only communications (which decreases hacking risks)?

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