Perverse Effects of
Technology on Children
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Zone’in Fact Sheet
A research review regarding the impact of technology on child development, behavior, and
- Infants watch 2.5 hours per day of TV and 25% have TV’s in their
- Children use 7.5 hours per day of entertainment technology, and 75% have a device in their
- 30% of children will enter kindergarten developmentally delayed
- 14.3% of children, have been diagnosed with a mental illness
- 25% of children are obese
- 30% of children require special education assistance
By Chris Rowan
The past decade has seen a profound increase in use of entertainment technology by children,
some as young as one year of age. Critical milestones for child sensory, motor, and attachment development
are not being met. Developmental delay, obesity, attention deficit, and learning disabilities are now the
norm. Attachment to technology is “detaching” children from humanity, with consequent increased incidence of
childhood psychological and behavior disorders, often accompanied by prescription of dangerous psychotropic
medication. Media violence is now been categorized as a public health risk due to causal links to child
aggression. Brain development research shows that technology overuse by children results in “pruning” tracks
to the frontal cortex, adversely effecting executive functioning and impulse control. Early studies now
indicate electromagnetic radiation emitted from technology is harmful to adult physical and mental health,
with no studies to date on children. Schools continue to escalate use of “educational” technologies without
ANY research evidence to show efficacy or safety. It is now time for parents, teachers, health professionals,
government, researchers and technology production corporations to join together to manage balance between
activity and technology, a concept termed Balanced Technology Management,
Technology Use Overview
- Elementary aged children now average 7.5 hours per day using a combination of technologies
(TV, video games, internet, movies, cell phones and iPods), with total amount of exposure time averaging
11 hours per day. Two thirds of children report their parents do not restrict their access to technology,
and 75% of these children have TV’s in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation Report 2010).
- “Baby TV” now occupies 2.5 hours per day for the 0-2 year old population, and television
occupies 4.5 hours per day for 3-5 year olds, and 6.5 hours per day for elementary aged children and is
causally linked to developmental delays (Christakis D 2007). This situation has prompted France to ban
its broadcasters from airing TV shows aimed at children under three years of age (CBC News, 2008), and
Disney to offer refunds for their “Baby Einstein” DVD’s (NY Times, 2009).
- 173 research efforts going back to 1980 were analyzed and rated, showing 80% of the studies
showed a link between the following negative health outcomes and media hours or content: obesity,
smoking, sexual behavior, drug use, alcohol use, low academic achievement and ADHD (Nunez-Smith M 2004,
Zimmerman F 2007, Hancox R 2005, Murray J 2006).
Technology Addiction Prevalence
- Young adults experience distress when they try to unplug from technology for even one
day, a research project has found. Many students also reported mental and physical symptoms of distress and
“employed the rhetoric of addiction, dependency and depression,” when reporting their experiences of trying
to go unplugged for a full day (CBC News 2011).
- The stronger blood volume pulse and respiratory responses and the weaker peripheral temperature reactions of the high-risk Internet Addiction abusers indicate
the sympathetic nervous system was heavily activated in these individuals (Lu D 2010).
- A Harris Interactive Poll in the US release in April 2007 found that 8.5% of youth gamers
could be classified as “pathological” or “clinically addicted” to playing video games. A
British survey of gamers indicated 12% reported being “addicted”. 2.4 % of South Korea from ages 9 – 39
have video game addiction according to a government funded survey. Another 10.2% were found to be
borderline cases at risk of addiction. Addiction was defined as an obsession with playing
electronic games to the point of sleep deprivation, disruption of daily life and a loosening grip on
reality, depression and with drawl when not playing. 10 South Koreans died in 2005 from disruption
in blood circulation caused by prolonged use. S. Korea has government funded counseling and clinics
for gamers. Most addictive video games are the MMORPG’s massively multiplayer online role playing games
(Washington Post 2006).
- A German nationwide survey in 2007 and 2008 of 44,610 ninth graders indicates that 3% of
male and 0.3% of female students were diagnosed as Video Game Dependent accompanied by increased levels
of psychological and social stress in the form of lower school achievement, increased truancy, reduced
sleep time, limited leisure activities, and increased thoughts of committing suicide (Rehbein, Kleimann
& Mobie, 2010).
- Difficulty identifying feelings, higher dissociative experiences, lower self esteem, and
higher impulse dysregulation were associated with higher incidence of internet addiction (DeBerardis D
- ADHD was the most associated symptom of Internet Addiction, followed by impulsivity (Yen J
- Internet addicts are lonelier and have lower self-esteem and poorer social skills than
moderate users (Ghassemzadeh L 2008).
- Video game addiction can be statistically predicted on measures of hostility and poor
academic achievement (Shao-I C 2004). 12% of boys and 8% of girl video game players exhibit
pathological patterns of play, and fit the DSM IV category of addiction. Study also showed that
pathological gamers are twice as likely to have ADD or ADHD (Gentile D 2009).
- An internet-obsessed Korean couple allegedly allowed their infant daughter to starve to
death while they cared for their virtual child (Telegraph, UK, 2010).
- In an effort to solve the problem of escalating child internet addictions, the South Korean
government has created the Jump Up Internet Rescue School, a camp designed to cure Internet-addicted or online
game-addicted children (Koo C 2010).
- A joint study by the BC Business Council, and University of BC researchers with Human Early
Learning Partnership showing that just under 30% of BC children entering kindergarten are
“developmentally vulnerable” - lacking in those basic skills they need to thrive in school and in the
future. These children will go onto fail their grade 4 and 7 exams, and drop out of high school
prior to completion. This study, entitled A Comprehensive Policy Framework for Early Human Capital
Investment in BC states “Economic analyses reveal this depletion (in human capital) will cause BC to
forgo 20% GDP growth over the next 60 years, costing the provincial economy a sum of money that is 10
times the total provincial debt load.” (Kershaw P 2009)
- Canadian children were granted a “D” grade for inactivity in 2008 and an “F” in 2009 by
Active Healthy Kids Canada, citing TV, internet, and video games as the primary cause (Active Healthy
Kids Canada 2008 and 2009 Reports).
- American Physiotherapy Association reports two-thirds of over 400 members surveyed report
they’ve seen an increase in early motor delays in infants over the past six years (Jennings J
- A 2006 Canadian study reported one in six children have a developmental disability with only
55-65% of developmental disabilities are detected prior to school age entry (Hamilton S
- Data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey reported 17% of U.S. children had a
developmental disability with 6% of child population having language impairment, 8% a learning
disability, 7% ADHD and 0.5% Autism with 13.2% accessing special education assistance, resulting in 1.5
times more physician visits, 3.5 times more hospital days, twice the number of lost school days and a 2.5
fold increase in the likelihood of repeating a school grade compared to a non-developmentally disabled
child (Boyle C 1994).
- The past decade has seen an unprecedented rise in numbers of referrals to occupational
therapists for children with disorders such as printing and reading delays, attention and learning
difficulties, and significant behavior problems, which has placed the occupational therapist under
considerable workload management stress (Davidson & Bressler, 2010).
- A 2006 US study reported 32% of children admitted to inpatient pediatric ward demonstrated a
developmental disability (Petersen M 2006).
Obesity, Cardiovascular Disorders & Diabetes
- TV and video game use accounts for 60% of childhood obesity, and is now considered a North
American ‘epidemic’ (Tremblay M 2005, Strauss R 2001).
- In 1996, 10% of Canadian children ages 7-13 years were obese, with estimated economic costs
of 1.8 billion (Tremblay M 2002). In 2004, just eight years later, this number is 50% higher with a
prevalence of obesity at fully 30% of Canadian children (Statistics Canada, 2010).
- US study reports obesity incidence in 2 to 5 year old toddlers increased from 2.1% to 5.0%
in boys and 4.8% to 10.8% in girls over a 6 year period (Harvey-Berino J 2001).
- Health care providers are finding more and more children with type 2 diabetes, a disease
usually diagnosed in adults aged 40 years or older (Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
- Professor Andrew Prentice told the British Association’s science festival in Leicester that
due to the secondary effects of obesity on child cardiovascular systems and potential for diabetes, the
21st century generation may be the first generation to not outlive their parents (BBC News,
- Climbing obesity rates in European countries have lead a team of child health experts to
recommend placing obese children in foster care, citing that parents of obese children are negligent in
some way as to have indicated that the parents have caused their child’s obesity. By neglecting to
identify child technology overuse as a causal link to obesity, these experts are subjecting whole
families to what might be an unnecessary and uncalled for traumatic and catastrophic event (Vilner R,
- A boy who spent an entire day kneeling down playing computer games needed hospital treatment
for a blood clot in his leg (BBC News, 2004).
- Rapid advances in technology and transportation have resulted in a physically sedentary
society with high frequency, duration and intensity of sensory stimuli (Nelson M 2006).
- These environmental changes are faster than human being’s ability to adapt and evolve.
Children who immerse themselves in virtual reality may exhibit signs of sensory deprivation, as they
become disconnected from the world of physical play and meaningful interactions (Tannock M
- Overuse of TV and video games may result in children lacking essential connection with
themselves, others and nature. Child now fear nature, limiting outdoor play which is
essential for achieving sensory and motor development (Louv R 2005).
- Three critical factors for healthy physical and psychological child development are
movement, touch and connection to other humans (Insel R 2001, Korkman M 2001).
- Developing children require 3-4 hours per day of active rough and tumble play to achieve
adequate stimulation to the vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile sensory systems (National Association
for Sport and Physical Education 2002). This type of sensory input ensures normal development of
posture, bilateral coordination and optimal arousal states necessary for attainment of printing and
reading literacy (Schaff R 2007, Braswell J 2006, Rine R, 2004).
- Scottish study reports toddlers aged 3 years engaged in only 20 minutes per day of moderate
to vigorous physical activity, which correlated with a decline in total energy expenditure and sedentary
behavior. Study identifies TV, video games, strollers as “culprits” (Reilly J
- Infants with low tone, toddlers failing to reach motor milestones, and children who are
unable to pay attention or achieve basic foundation skills for literacy, are frequent visitors to
pediatric physiotherapy and occupational therapy clinics. Infant flat head has increased 600% in the past
5 years (Jennings J 2005).
- Sensory Processing Disorder affects 1 in 20 children www.SPDFoundation.net, 2009.
- The ability of a child to adapt to sensory responses in their environments emerges early in
life as a protective and discriminative mechanism, and as children grow they typically become better at
tolerating uncomfortable sensory stimuli by applying strategies to self regulate. Sensory
over-responsivity reflects a failure to achieve a balance between sensitization and habituation, and can
affect many aspects of a child’s life in both home and school settings. A study long term study looked at
infants with sensory over-responsivity when they entered the school system and found that early
sensitivities were associated with sensory over-reactivity status at school-age (Ben-Sasson, 2010).
Technology overuse may result in sensory over-reactivity (Rowan, 2010).
- Study investigating sensory over-responsivity in children with ADHD shows substantiated
links between sensory over-responsivity and anxiety, in both typical and ADHD children. Results suggest
that ADHD should be considered in conjunction with anxiety and sensory responsivity; both may be related
to bottom-up processing differences, and deficits in prefrontal cortex/hippocampal synaptic gating (Lane,
- 94.4% of adults with ASD reported extreme levels of sensory processing on at least one
sensory quadrant of the Adult/Adolescent Sensory Profile (Crane, 2009).
- 69% of children with Autism demonstrated sensory symptoms on the Sensory Experiences
Questionnaire (Baranek, 2006).
- 95% of children with Autism demonstrated some degree of sensory processing dysfunction on
the Short Sensory Profile Total Score, with the greatest differences reported on the
underresponsive/seeks sensation, auditory filtering and tactile sensitivity sections (Tomchek,
- Children with photosensitivity have increased risk of epilepsy when using video games or
other high speed visual technologies (Singh R 2004 and Kasteleijn-Nolst Trenite DG 2002). Children with
Autism frequently exhibit photosensitivity (Baron-Cohen S 2010).
Human Detachment and Psychological Disorders
- Children who watch more than the expert recommended 1-2 hours per day of technology, have a
60% increase in psychological disorders (Bristol University, 2010).
- Nationwide survey reports problematic use of video games was associated with lower
scores on life satisfaction and with elevated levels of anxiety and depression (Mentzoni R
- Anxious attachment, depression, and anxiety could explain problematic alcohol use. In
contrast, both anxious and avoidant attachment as well as depression and phobia explained problematic
Internet use. Additionally, depression moderated the effects of avoidant attachment on problematic Internet
use. We demonstrated that the interaction of attachment and psychopathology predicts problematic Internet
use originating from an earlier stage of life than that associated with problematic alcohol use (Shin S
- Mood disorders showed a statistically significant (p = 0.044) correlation with a higher score on the IAT (Internet Addiction Test). Mental health
care practitioners must consider questions on Internet use as an essential part of the patients’
evaluation given its significant correlation with diagnosis of a mood disorder (Liberatore K
- People who report they are not happy watch over 30% more TV hours per day than people who
report they are happy (Robinson J 2008).
- Television exposure and total media exposure in adolescence are associated with increased
odds of depressive symptoms in young adulthood, especially in young men (Primack B
- A recent study revealed that 20% of parents did not know how to “play” with their children,
and one third of parents found play “boring” (Guardian News, 2010). Parent time spent connected to
various forms of technologies is disconnecting them from forming healthy, primary attachments with their
children. This parent-child “disconnection” is a major contributing factor to the reported increased
incidence of mental diagnoses (Flores P 2004).
- In Canada 1 in 165 children have been diagnosed with Autism (Autism Society of Canada,
2010), and in the US 1 in 110 children have Autism (Autism Society, 2010).
- 9% of US children age 8-15 years meet criteria for ADHD (Rapport M 2008).
- Recent studies document a rise in psychological disorders in children reporting increasing
incidence of ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety (Zito J 2001, The Well-being of
Canada’s Young Children Report 2003, Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, Overview of Mental
Disorders in Children, Mental Health in the United States: Prevalence of Diagnosis and Medication
Treatment for ADHD, Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2003).
- 2007 mental illness statistics for children in Canada show that 14.3% of children have a
diagnosed mental health disorder with anxiety disorders 6.4%, ADD or ADHD 4.8%, conduct disorders 4.2%,
depressive disorders 3.5%, substance abuse 0.8%, autism spectrum disorders 0.3%, obsessive compulsive
disorders 0.2%, eating disorders 0.1%, schizophrenia 0.1%, bipolar disorder <0.1% (Waddell C
- Based on the ways in which the parent copes with the stresses of their own technology
overuse, the parent consequently might raise their children in such a way as to result in either an
avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized attachment disorder. A study conducted in Beijing, China reports
that adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder consistently rated parental rearing behaviors as being
over-intrusive, punitive, and lacking in responsiveness, indicating that the influences of parenting
style and family function are important factors in the development of internet dependency (Xiuquin,
- Parents who stay in touch with their university aged children using social networking
(texts, email, Facebook), have children who are more anxious, lonely and who indicate loneliness, anxious attachment, as well as conflict within the parental relationship,
than children who’s parents stay in touch by phone (Gentzler, 2010).
- Recent changes from a ‘categorical’ to a ‘dimensional’ model in the upcoming Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition to be released in May of 2013, has opened the flood gates for
increasing diagnosis of children with mental disorders, reports Dr. Allen Frances, who was chair of the
DSM-IV Task Force and of the department of psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine in North
Carolina (Psychiatric Times, 2009). Dr. Francis states that this paradigm shift is premature, as there is
not even one biological test ready for inclusion in the criteria sets for DSM-V. With increasing numbers
of experts in the field of child psychiatry now questioning whether there even is a biological component
in child mental illness (Breggin P, 2008), it seems pertinent to investigate environmental causes for the
incremental rise in child mental and behavioral diagnoses.
- 13% of respondents ages 8 to 15 years of age who participated in the National Health and
Nutrition Examination Survey reportedly met criteria for at least one of the following mental health
disorders in the past year: generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, eating disorders, depression,
ADHD, and conduct disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, 2009).
- There are no reliable, valid, or replicable studies showing genetic evidence for any
psychiatric disorders, including ADHD, Autism, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression or anxiety
(Joseph J 2003, Baughman F 2009).
- Yet – in a study of 491 physicians in Washington D.C., almost half of the diagnoses of ADHD
in their patients had been suggested first by teachers (Sax L 2003).
- Teachers have taken on the role of “disease spotters” and “sickness brokers” for ADHD, as
pharmaceutical companies escalate their infiltration of the school system (Phillips C
Psychotropic Medication, Restraints, Seclusion Rooms…
- Child behavior diagnoses and subsequent use of psychotropic medication may be a result of
technology overuse, resulting in the development of a novel “Unplug – Don’t Drug” policy initiative and routine
technology screening (Rowan C 2010).
- Behaviors associated to technology overuse may be confusing for parents, teachers and
physicians, and could be easily misunderstood, possibly resulting in psychiatric diagnosis and
prescription of psychotropic medication (Ruff M 2005, Diller L 1999, Welch M 2006, Mukaddes N
- Dr. David Stein reported at the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and
Psychology conference in October 2009 that 32% of children ages 0-18 years covered by Blue Cross
insurance are currently on psychotropic medication (Stein D 2009).
- Between 1991 and 1995, prescriptions for psychotropic medications in the 2 – 4 year old
toddler population, as well as in children and youth tripled (Zito J 2000, 2003, Mandell D 2008).
80% of this medication was prescribed by family physicians and pediatricians (Goodwin R
- 28-30% of children receiving psychotropic medication are on multiple medications, with
minimal knowledge regarding drug interactions or long term toxicity (47).
- Study performed by researchers from the Government of Western Australia, Department of
Health, report reduced academic performance and increased risk of heart malfunction in children who
receive ADHD medication. “We found that stimulant medication did not significantly improve a child’s
level of depression, self perception or social functioning and they were more likely to be performing
below their age level at school by a factor of 10.5 times.” Prof Landau said the study also suggested
that a child’s heart function may be affected by long-term stimulant use and may remain affected even
after stopping medication (Raine ADHD Study).
- A comparative study of children diagnosed with ADHD who were on stimulant medication showed
a 10% decrease in growth rate when contrasted with children diagnosed with ADHD who were not receiving
stimulant medication (Swanson, Elliot, Greenhill, Wigal Arnold & Vitiello, 2007).
- Aantipsychotics have a subtle but measurable influence on brain tissue loss over time,
suggesting the importance of careful risk-benefit review of dosage and duration of treatment as well as
their off-label use in children (Ho B 2011).
- Limited high quality evidence guiding appropriate dosing and inexperience in documentation
of long term effects of these prescriptions in children may mean that these children undergo unquantified
risks (dosReis S 2005, Rosack J 2003, Kirsch I 2004, Thomas C 2006).
- Dr. Peter Breggin reported at the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and
Psychology conference in October 2009 that ADHD medication causes permanent neurotransmitter changes due
to receptor down regulation, resulting in depletion of the transmitter the drug was originally designed
to increase. New psychotropic medication molecular structure has added fluoride and chloride ions
to improve long acting ability, which are proven to be toxic with long term (> 4 months)
administration to cell mitochondria causing eventual cell death. ADHD medication results in growth
retardation and 20% brain shrinkage, appetite loss, 50% depression, 50% Obsessive Compulsive Disorder,
Tardive Dyskinesthesia, and alcohol and cocaine abuse. Psychotropic medication decreases spontaneity and
increases obsessive compulsive disorder, two traits which are ALWAYS interpreted as “improvement” by the
educational system (Breggin P 2008).
- Research regarding stimulant medication with children is rife with conflict. Studies
have low validity and reliability ratings, and findings can rarely be replicated. Clinical trials
are generally small in sample size (30-40 children), and on children older than FDA approved regulations,
resulting in prevalent “off label” prescribing. Clinical trials are conducted for no longer than
4-8 week periods, which is insufficient to document any toxicological side effects, and authors state
“Neither the long-term effectiveness nor the long-term safety of stimulant medications has ever been
demonstrated”. (Jensen P 2002)
- Three year follow-up of treated ADHD subjects showed increases in heart rate, and/or
systolic and diastolic blood pressure in 20% of children taking stimulants for ADHD (Winterstein A
- Health Canada warns that Atomoxetine (Strattera), a drug commonly used to treat ADHD
disorder in children, has been linked to 189 reported adverse reactions as of December 31, 2007,
including 55 suicide attempts of which 43 were among children between the ages of 6 and 17 (CBC News
- Two world-renowned
Harvard child psychiatrists Dr. Joseph Biederman and Dr. Thomas Spencer, whose work has helped fuel an
explosion in the use of powerful antipsychotic medicines in children, found in a 2006 study increased
prevalence of adult ADHD and call for increased detection and treatment (Kessler R 2006). Senator Charles
E. Grassley implicated these same researchers in payments of $1.6 million of unreported income from
pharmaceutical corporations over a 6 year period (New York Times 2008).
- Although “off label” marketing of psychotropic medication and suppression of negative
results of drug trials are illegal, they are widely accepted practices by pharmaceutical companies (Bass
A 2008). Researcher concerns regarding the correlation between stimulant use and cardiovascular risk in
children, (Vitiello, B. & Towbin, K. 2009), indicates immediate attention be directed to
nonpharmalogical behavior interventions for the treatment of child behavior and learning
- School management difficulties with increasing numbers of aggressive children, is resulting
in the rising use of physical and chemical restraints (Irwin M 2009), as well as the rising use of
seclusion rooms (Vancouver Sun 2010).
- When there is no evidence that locking children in “safe rooms” improves behavior in the
long term, and may actually be harmful to children (PENT Forum 2008), why are schools increasing their
Communication and Social Disorders
- One in five toddlers have speech and language delays associated with overexposure to
television, and Dr. Sally Ward recommends improving quality and quantity of communication with parents
to optimize speech and language acquisition (Ward S 2004).
- The ability of the 21st century child to socialize with both adults and peers is
deteriorating at a rapid pace. Sally Ward, a professor of speech and language pathology reported in her
book “Baby Talk“, that one in five toddlers demonstrate speech and language delays (Ward S
- Canadian parents spend an average 3.5 minutes per week participating in meaningful
conversation with their children (Turcotte M 2006).
- Dimitri Christakis, pediatric researcher at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center
in Seattle, reports that children learn language skills largely from verbal interactions with their
parents. In his recent 2009 study where he used digital recorders on both parents and children in their
homes, Dr. Christakis found that adults typically utter approximately 941 words per hour, yet these adult
words are almost completely eliminated when television is audible to the child. Dr. Christakis found that
each hour of audible television was associated with significant reductions in child vocalizations,
vocalization duration, and conversational turns. On average, each additional hour of television exposure
was also associated with a decrease of 770 words the child heard from an adult during the recording
session. Since 30 percent of American households now report having the television always on, even when no
one is watching, researchers report these findings have grave implications for language acquisition and
therefore perhaps even early brain development (Christakis, 2009).
- Time spent using social media was associated with a larger number of online social
network “friends.” However, time spent using social media was not associated with larger offline networks,
or feeling emotionally closer to offline network members (Pollet T 2011).
- Social self-efficacy in the real world (offline) is negatively related with the degree of
game addiction, whereas social self-efficacy in the virtual world (online) indicated a positive association.
Social activities with parents are negatively associated with game addiction, although no relationship is
found between gaming activities with parents and game addiction (Jeong E 2011).
- Parents reported greater communication and closeness when adolescents initiated calls
seeking social support. Adolescents reported greater conflict when parents called for monitoring
activity, for tracking schoolwork, and when upset. Calls to ask and confer by adolescents and to track
school work positively related, but parental calls when upset negatively related to parental self-esteem.
Adolescent self-esteem is predicted by calls seeking support and negatively associated with parents
calling when upset (Weisskirch R 2011).
- Adequate tactile stimulation is integral to optimizing infant and child development, and
tactile deprivation can cause abnormal development of the tactile system. Dr. Ann Bigelow, pediatric researcher at St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia found
that skin-to-skin tactile stimulation between mother and infant was shown to reduce gurgitation, improve
sleep, and improve overall growth, as well as enhance infants’ sensitivity to their mother which
accelerates knowledge about, and expectations for, her behavior (Bigelow, 2006).
- The use of safety restraint devices such as infant bucket seats and toddler carrying packs
and strollers, have further limited movement, touch and human connection, as have TV, internet, and video
games (Rowan C 2010).
- A comparative study of two different types of neonatal infant care: the use of a ‘kangaroo
care’ where the infant was carried in a pouch-type device at all times by the caregiver optimizing
skin-to-skin contact, and the use of traditional incubators concluded that kangaroo care had a
significant positive impact on the infant’s perceptual-cognitive and motor development and on the
parenting process, and speculated that kangaroo care has both a direct impact on infant development by
contributing to neurophysiological organization and an indirect effect by improving parental mood,
perceptions, and interactive behavior (Feldman, R 2002).
- Sixty nine percent of the boys with ADHD were categorized as tactile defensive (Parush
- Following touch therapy, children with Autism showed decreased touch aversion, off task
behavior, orientation to irrelevant sounds, and stereotypic behaviors compared to a control group of
children with Autism who sat on researcher’s lap and were read a book. The touch therapy group also
improved more than the control group in stereotypic behaviors and orientation to irrelevant sounds. The
authors suggest the effectiveness of touch therapy might be related to changes in vagal tone and/or EEG
patterns (Field T 1997).
- Dr. Montagu reports that when children lack touch and human connection, they may respond by
‘turning in’ (anxiety, depression) or ‘turning out’ (aggression) (Montagu A 1972).
Attention Deficit and Learning Disabled
- Each hour of TV watched daily between the ages of 0 and 7 years equated to a 10% chance of
attention problems by age seven years (Christakis D 2004).
- Viewing TV and playing video games each are associated with increased subsequent attention
problems in childhood (Swing, 2010).
- Every additional hour of TV exposure at 29 mo. Corresponded to 6% unit decrease in classroom
engagement, 7% unit decrease in math achievement, 10% unit increase in victimization by classmates, 13%
decrease in time spent doing physical activity, and 10% higher consumption of soft drinks and snacks
(Pagani L 2010).
- The more time students spend on consuming media and the more violent its contents are, the worse are their marks at school, even when
controlling for vital factors such as family, educational, or immigrant background (Mossle T
- ADHD should be re-termed “attention inconsistency”, as these children have episodic
attention ability. Attention Restorative Theory has three tenants: 1) attention ability is subject
to fatigue and restoration 2) voluntary and interesting tasks are less fatiguing than involuntary and
uninteresting tasks 3) attention ability is subject to environment modifications (Kaplan S
- Passive and active TV watching results in irregular sleep patterns and sleep/wake transition
disorders. Attention and learning are negatively impacted by sleep deprivation (Paavonen E
- In 1994 and 2003, comparative literacy studies of Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland,
Sweden, Switzerland and the United States were completed covering four literacy domains – prose
(reading and understanding text information e.g. stories, editorials), document (locating
text information e.g. maps, schedules), and numeracy (understanding math embedded in text e.g.
weather and loan interest charts) and problem solving. Participants were ranked on five levels,
with level one being the lowest. 15% of Canadians scored in level one, and only 50% reached level
three. Canadians scored in the middle of the pack, and results were the same for 1994 and 2003
(Sloat E 2000).
- More than eight million students in grades 4-12 read below grade level, and while they can
decode, they cannot comprehend what they read. Between 1971 and 2004, the reading level of
America’s 17 year olds showed no improvement at all. 40% of high school graduates lack the literacy
skills employers seek. Early exposure to print is largest predictor of reading ability (National
Center for Education Statistics 2005).
- Literacy is defined as competency in handwriting, reading and communication skill. A
foundation in spoken language competence in the early years, is important for the successful achievement
of literacy, academic and social competence. Printing is a precursor to reading and speech fluency, and
poor handwriting skill is related to language disorders. Motor planning required for automatic
letter production when printing “maps” the sensorimotor cortex for eventual visual letter recognition for
reading, and word finding for oral sentence production (Shanahan T 2007, Goldberg E 1999, Tomblin B
Failure to Print – The Foundation for Illiteracy
- Teachers spend an average 14 minutes per day teaching handwriting, far less than the 45 minutes per day spent in the 60’s and 70’s, and slightly less than
the 15 minutes per day mandated in the 80’s. A US study by Steven Graham reports that 90% of US primary
school teachers college education did not adequately prepare them to provide lessons in penmanship, and
therefore do not devote much time to teaching printing. Textbooks offer less information on teaching
printing, and universities have less instruction. Handwriting teaching methods and methods for student
evaluation are inconsistent and non-standardized. 100% of the 169 primary teachers who participated in
this study reported they thought printing should be taught as a separate subject (Graham S
- Children who cannot print are essentially illiterate. Teacher misperception that the
computer will replace the need to print, is unfounded and shortsighted. Slow printing speed
resulting from inadequate teaching of letter and number formation, impacts on every subject and is the
leading cause of illiteracy (Rowan C 2010).
- Another study by Graham documents that in 1996 70% of teachers indicated that handwriting
was “not as good as it should be”, and expressed concern regarding the “downward plunge in the standards
of handwriting legibility required of elementary school children”. Authors also state that students who
have difficulty with automaticity of writing, thus achieving poor quality and quantity of written output,
results in avoidance and minimization of the writing process. Authors state that for beginning writers,
both visual and verbal modeling appears to be the most effective means of introducing a letter prior to
practice i.e. the teacher demonstrates how a letter is made while describing how it is formed (Graham S
et al 1993). Graham goes on to report in 2000 study how poor ability to produce quality and quantity of
written output can result in a long term disability in written expression (Graham S et al
- In Steven Graham’s 2006 book Handbook of Handwriting Research, this meta-analysis
concludes that printing strategy instruction is effective in improving student’s writing performance in
the areas of quality, elements, length, and revisions, with results maintained over time and generalized
to new tasks and situations.
- Steven Graham’s 2007 book Best Practices in Handwriting Instruction draws the
correlation between poor printing and subsequent difficulty with spelling, sentence composition, math,
science and any subject requiring printing skill. Graham states “Failure to develop legible and automatic
letter and word formation interferes with content in writing.” and “Because of the excessive labor and
unattractive results involved in such writing, students are more likely to avoid or minimize the process
when possible”. Graham instructs that for beginners, both visual and verbal modeling is the most
effective means of introducing a letter prior to practice.
Education Technology – The Learning Paradox
- The more schools invest in technology, the less likely children are to pay attention and
learn constituting what is termed “The Learning Paradox” (Rowan C, 2010).
- PET scan studies showed that technology use of greater than 5 hours per day was consistent
with neurological “pruning” of tracks to the frontal cortex, known for executive functioning and impulse
control (Small G 2008).
- Yet – whole school districts are moving rapidly toward both virtual teaching and virtual
therapy. Referred to as the “$100 curriculum in a box”, TeacherMates and XO’s are replacing
teaching, referencing the teacher as a “moderator” (Fast Company, April 2010).
- People switched between media at an extreme rate, averaging more than 4 switches per min
and 120 switches over the 27.5-minute study exposure. Participants had little insight into their switching
activity and recalled their switching behavior at an average of only 12 percent of their actual switching
rate revealed in the objective data. Younger individuals switched more often than older individuals (Brasel
- Comparative study of digital (screen) reading vs. print reading reports the following
problems with screen reading:
- Attention: clicking and scrolling disrupt attention and disturb mental
- Comprehension: reader lacks both completeness and constituent parts
- Memory: change in physical surroundings has a negative effect on memory
- Learning: doesn’t allow required time and mental exertion
- Meaning: isn’t a physical dimension, loss of totality
Mangen Quote: “The digital hypertext technology and its use of multimedia are not open
to the experience of a fictional universe where the experience consists of creating
you own mental images. The reader gets
distracted by the opportunities for doing something else” (Mangen A
Media Violence, Declining Empathy, and Aggression
- American Physician, Pediatrician, Psychiatrist and Psychologist Associations in 2001
declared media violence a Public Health Risk, stating violence is the leading cause of death in
children (Committee on Public Education – Media Violence 2001).
- Violent media is a public health threat. A review of 50 years of research on the impact of
violence in TV, movies, videogames and internet concludes that watching media violence significantly
increases the risk that a viewer or videogame player will behave aggressively in both the short and the
long term. 60% of TV programs contain violence and 40% contain heavy violence. Most videogames
contain violence. Video game ratings are a poor indicator of content and constitute conflict of
interest, as the rating process is performed by the video game industry. Authors state the impact
of violent electronic media on public health is second only to the impact of cigarette smoking on lung
cancer (Huesmann L 2007).
- In the short term, media violence can increase aggression by priming aggressive thoughts and
decision processes increasing physiological arousal, and triggering a tendency to imitate observed
behaviors. In the long-term, repeated exposure can produce lasting increases in aggressive thought
patterns and aggression-supporting beliefs about social behaviors, and can reduce individuals normal
negative emotional responses to violence (Anderson C 2003).
- Studies regarding the effects of violent video games on children found even violent cartoons
increased aggression in 9-12 year old children. Violence is defined as doing intentional harm to
another, not how graphic or gory the game is. Increased exposure to violent videogames results in
more pro-violent attitudes, hostile personalities, less forgiveness, belief that violence is typical, and
causes children to behave more aggressively in their every day life (Anderson C 2007).
- Young children are most vulnerable to media violence as they are more impressionable, can’t
distinguish between fantasy and reality, cannot discern motives for violence, and learn by observing and
imitating (Buchanan A 2002).
- Recent incidents of growing child aggression against other children and school staff members
have been reported in the press to have doubled in the Vancouver School District in the past three years
(Vancouver Sun, 2010). School management difficulties with increasing numbers of aggressive children, is
resulting in the rising use of physical and chemical restraints (Gaskin, 2007; Muralidharan & Fenton,
2009), as well as a rising use of seclusion rooms (Vancouver Sun 2010; Muralidharan & Fenton, 2009).
- A 2010 University of Michigan study shows today’s college students are 40-per-cent less
empathetic than those of the 1980s and 1990s determined by an analysis of the past 30 years of students
who participated in the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index which looked at empathic concern, emotional
response to the distress of others, and “perspective-taking” or the ability to imagine another person’s
perspective. This study cites the influx of callous reality television shows and the growth of social
networking and texting as causal factors for the decline in empathy in today’s young people (Globe and
- Tyrone Spellman, 27, played long hours on his Xbox, so when his 17-month-old daughter pulled
on some cords and tipped the Xbox to the ground, breaking it, he become completely enraged. He
struck her with such force that it “cracked her skull several times.” The autopsy too, revealed a
broken arm that was at least two weeks old which social workers had failed to identify previously (CBS
- Survey of 3,767 grade 6, 7, 8 students who attended six schools in the US found 11% had
been electronically bullied and 4% indicated they had bullied a victim in the past month. Half of the
electronic bully victims reported not knowing the perpetrator’s identity (Kowalski R
- Youth who reported being harasses online were 8 times more likely to carry a weapon to
school in the past 30 days (Ybarra M 2007).
- While online cyberbullying occurs off campus, resulting altercations happen on site (Willard
- Internet bullying is correlated with school behavior problems, and media literacy programs
may mitigate the negative effects of electronic media on youth (Worthen M 2007).
- Cyberbullies demonstrated less empathic responsiveness than non-cyberbullies, and were also
more afraid of becoming victims of cyberbullying. The findings confirm and substantially extend the
research on the relationship between empathy and aggressive behavior. From an educational point of view,
the present findings suggest that training of empathy skills might be an important tool to decrease
cyberbullying (Steffgen G 2011).
- Recently released research from the Department of Biophysics, Faculty of Medicine in
Cukurova University, Turkey indicates exposure to extremely low-frequency electromagnetic
fields (ELF-EMF), known to be emitted from technology including computers, wireless internet, cell
phones, and televisions, causes oxidative cell damage and cell death in rats (Emre M
- Using a cell phone for > or = 10 years approximately doubles the risk of being diagnosed
with a brain tumor on the same (“ipsilateral”) side of the head as that preferred for cell phone use. The
data achieve statistical significance for glioma and acoustic neuroma but not for meningioma (Khurana V
- Electromagnetic radiation can cause difficulty sleeping, dizziness, headaches, tingling in
the hands, ringing in the ears, pain in the eyes, “unexplained” cardiac conditions, electro-sensitivity,
low immunity, ADHD and Autism (Crofton K, 2011).
Costs of Child Technology Overuse to the Canadian Health and Education
- Total annual costs to the Canadian health and education sectors to address problems that
strongly correlate with child technology addictions are $35.5 billion.
- Extrapolation from previously cited research indicates estimated annual costs to the
Canadian health care system to support children with developmental disabilities, psychiatric and
behavioral disorders are $9.3 billion, obesity are $3 billion and medication costs are $0.3 billion,
totaling $12.5 billion.
- Estimated annual costs to the Canadian education system for failing literacy are $10
billion, and educational support of children with developmental disabilities are $13 billion, totaling
Technology Screening and Management
- In 2001 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement recommending that
children less than two years of age should not watch or be exposed to any TV or video games (Children,
adolescents and television. Committee on Public Education, AAP 2001), and further recommended that
children older than two should restrict usage to one hour per day if they have any physical, mental,
social, or academic problems, and two hours per day maximum if they don’t (Children, adolescents and
advertising. Committee on Communications, AAP 2006).
- Further evidence suggests some parents may have technology addictions (Horvath C 2004), and
Adult Internet Addiction has been proposed for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th
Edition (Block J 2008).
- Mounting research evidence suggests that childhood is the optimal time to influence
determinants of social and emotional wellbeing (Willms J 2002), with recent research demonstrating that
prevention programs in childhood can reduce the prevalence of mental disorders, while also addressing
causal factors. For example targeted parent training within disadvantaged families can
significantly reduce subsequent prevalence of behavior disorders in children, while also improving
educational and social outcomes (Waddell C 2007).
- These facts support implementation of school based technology management programs, teaching
children how to balance activities they need to grow and succeed, with technology use. A randomized
controlled trial of a 6-month classroom curriculum to reduce TV and video game use resulted in not only
statistically significant reduction in technology use, but also showed relative decreases in obesity
(Robinson R 1999).
- With researchers advocating for increased services for children to address increasing
prevalence of child mental health disorders (McEwan K 2007), and solid evidence that many of these
disorders may be related to technology overuse, it seems warranted that the health and education sectors
participate in routine technology screening and management programs.
- Balanced Technology Management is a concept where adults manage balance between activities children need to optimize growth
and success, with technology use (Rowan C 2010 and www.zonein.ca).
- Health and education professionals may want to consider an Unplug – Don’t Drug policy
where prior to costly diagnosis and medication of child behavior, the child and family undergo a three
month supported technology unplug trial. Alternatively, the medical profession may consider routine
technology usage histories for all their clients (Rowan C 2010).
Playgrounds and Nature – Epicenters for Development, Learning and Behavior
- Many of today’s parents perceive outdoor play is ‘unsafe’, even though most crimes against children are instigated by family members (Burdette H 2005),
limiting essential developmental components usually attained in outdoor rough and tumble
- Exposure to “green space” results in a significant reduction in ADHD, in both areas of impulse control and attention ability. Nature not only has
attention restorative benefits, but also activates all the senses to enhance multi-sensory learning
ability (Faber-Taylor A 2001, Kuo F 2004).
- There is a positive correlation between physical activity and seven categories of
cognitive performance: perceptual skills, intelligence quotient, achievement, verbal tests, math
tests, developmental level, and academic readiness. Studies show that a reduction of 240 minutes
per week of academic class time, replaced with increased time for PE, led to higher math scores.
Adding PE time alone does not improve grades, it’s vigorous exercise that improves cognition e.g.
climbing walls, exercise bikes, tread mills, dancing (Ratey J 2008).
- Students with greater than 15 minutes per day of recess had teacher reports of better
classroom behavior. 30% of 3rd graders had little or no recess (< 15 minutes per day)
and 40% of schools surveyed had cut back at least one daily recess period. Since the 1970’s, children
have lost 12 hours per week in free time (Barros R 2009).
- Licensing and fear of litigation has dramatically changed playgrounds to boring and
developmentally unchallenging structures. Merry-go-rounds, tall swings and slides are all a thing of the
past. Many daycare and preschool environments have eliminated swings altogether (Foundation Series
Workshop participant comments).
- Injury accounts for 40% of all childhood death, but – environmental modifications reduce
50-75% of injuries and therefore playgrounds can be designed to be safe (Howard A
- Canadian Standards Association (www.csa.ca) sets rules for
playgrounds and if followed, halves the injury rate. Safe Kids Canada (www.safekidscanada.ca) has a number of resources and information
(Howard A 2005).
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has published detailed guidelines for playground
safety, which specifically address requirements for raised play platforms and protective playground
surfaces. CPSC has produced a handbook for public playgrounds and a playground safety checklist (U.S.
Consumer Product Safety Commission).
- Risk factors for severe playground injuries are associated with falls from playground
equipment. Majority of playground injuries are sustained when falling from heights greater than 1.5
meters onto inadequate falling surface (MacArthur C 2000).
- A systematic review of children with autism and physical exercise showed decreases in
stereotypy, aggression, off-task behavior, and elopement (Lang, 2010).
- Studies have shown that access to “green space” for 20 minutes per day significantly reduced
ADHD symptoms, yet drug use continues to climb. Inner city children suffer from ADHD at three times
the rate of children in rural areas (Kuo F 2004).
A frequent guest on both radio and television, Cris Rowan is a well known and impassioned
speaker on the topic of the impact of technology on child development and academic performance. Cris has
provided over 200 workshops to health and education professionals throughout North America, and authors the
monthly Child Development Series newsletter. Cris has BSc’s in occupational therapy and biology, and
is a SIPT certified sensory specialist. Cris is CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc. offering products,
workshops, training and consultative services to reverse the effects of technology on child development. Cris
is author of the following policy initiatives: Unplug – Don’t Drug, Creating Sustainable Futures and
Linking Corporations to Communities. Cris recently completed her first book Virtual Child – The
terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children. Cris promotes the concept “Balanced
Technology Management” where adults manage balance between activities children need to grow and succeed with
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