Screen Time Actions and Reactions
For a couple of days in April at Wheelock College in Boston an extraordinary event occurred. The inaugural conference of the Children's Screen Time Action Network hosted by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood convened. An unlikely assortment of about 200 parents, pre-k -12 educators, medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, scientists, professors, religious leaders, media representatives, nonprofit board members, and others who work directly with children came together to express their concerns about how screen devices are affecting our youth.
During the conference, professionals from a wide variety of fields presented to and learned from each other about the latest research on children and the media, and strategies and best practices for working with families to reduce screen time. They also laid the groundwork for future collaborations.
For a virtual tour of the conference, follow the links below:
It is the first conference that I have attended in several years where participants were not constantly tethered to their own screen devices. Except for the occasional photo-op or actual phone call, phones and other screen devices were mostly out of sight. Refreshing.
The conference was outstanding, but even with the breadth of knowledge presented in the many conference offerings, there was an elephant in the room which I will identify in a bit, but first some highlights from my Children's Screen Time Action Network experience.
Persuasive design, embodiment repair, commercialism, media effects, ADHD and other health concerns, defending the early years, innovation, exploitation, and real solutions in schools were just some of the topics presented -- far too many to embrace in a two-day assembly. Perhaps the best way to explain the highlights of my experience is through the books I picked up from speakers who resonated with me.
Comedian Paula Poundstone donated her time to give an engaging keynote performance that left us teary-eyed from laughter as she expressed her frustration with monitoring screen devices for her children. She has been a proponent of less screen time for years -- for everyone. I'm pictured here having a serious conversation with her about the proliferation of edtech in our public schools and the lack of safety concerns over the harmful effects of wifi radiation on children's health. I picked up a copy of her latest book, The Totally Unscienticfic Study of the Search for Human Happiness, and read a chapter each night. So funny. Would she be happy to know it puts me straight to sleep at bedtime?
Matt Miles and Joe Clement
Matt and Joe are two public school teachers in Northern Virginia and the authors of Screen Schooled. You may note that they are not two curmudgeonly, bitter, crusty, old teachers. Between them they have taught most every grade including ESOL and special needs students.
Neither are they Luddites nor technophobes, but quite tech savvy. However, several years ago they began studying the adverse effects technology out of genuine concern for their students. They could no longer ignore the sharp and drastic decline in their students’ ability to think, communicate, and interact with one another. It is somewhat of a mini-miracle that what with juggling families with young children, teaching, and doing other projects, they were able to author Screen Schooled.
"The book provides many real-world examples and cites multiple studies showing how technology use has created a wide range of cognitive and social deficits in our young people. They lift the veil on what’s really going on at school: teachers who are powerless to curb cell phone distractions; zoned-out kids who act helpless and are unfocused, unprepared, and antisocial; and administrators who are too-easily swayed by the pro-tech “science” sponsored by corporate technology purveyors. They provide action steps parents can take to demand change and make a compelling case for simpler, smarter, more effective forms of teaching and learning."
When I asked them about wifi radiation safety precautions at their schools, they said it wasn't something they were aware of but would like to know more about. You can stay up to date with Matt and Joe at Beyond the Screens.
I learned so much from Nancy Carlsson-Paige and Roxana Marachi about defending our youngest students and the motivation for online preschool. Both were interested in learning more about the effects of wifi radiation on young children. Although it wasn't part of her presentation, Roxana shared with me a file of information she has collected on the subject.
By now you may have guessed that the elephant in the room is the topic of wifi radiation. Since it is a topic that has surfaced in my hometown, and I had written about it here and here, I was surprised to find practically no mention of it at the conference. We had been encouraged by CFCC staff to suggest topics for breakout sessions during lunch. I asked for such a session around the topic of wifi radiation based on new evidence in The Nation, How Big Wireless Made Us Think Cell Phones Are Safe: A Special Investigation that had been reported on Democracy Now earlier in the month. My suggestion was ignored.
Dr. Victoria Dunkley
That we should convene a conference with experts from many fields and ignore the invisible threat that could do the most harm to humans was difficult to comprehend. All I was asking for was a conversation. The one exception was a tiny mention during the slide presentation of Dr. Victoria Dunckley, who is now my hero for having the courage to mention the topic.
On a slide entitled Recommendations: "Big Picture" one little bullet point stood out to me because I had been searching for it during the entire conference. There it was: Use wired-only access: reduces EMFs and accessibility. EMF stands for electromagnetic field and is often used interchangeably with the term wifi radiation.
In her recent book Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time, Dr. Dunckley prescribes a no-cost, nonpharmaceutical treatment plan for children with behavioral and mental health challenges. She has found that everyday use of interactive screen devices — such as computers, video games, smartphones, and tablets — can easily overstimulate a child’s nervous system, triggering a variety of stubborn symptoms. In contrast, she’s discovered that a strict electronic fast single-handedly improves mood, focus, sleep, and behavior, regardless of the child’s diagnosis.
Such an "electronic fast" may be difficult to achieve if students attend schools with routers that emit high levels of EMFs. Containing radiation levels in schools will require the cooperation of school officials who recognize the threat to children's mental and physical well-being. The first step is to start the conversation.
Of note, many of the conference participants send their own children to private Waldorf Schools that do not have wifi nor do they offer computer instruction at the elementary and middle school levels. Similarly, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Silicon Valley execs and techs have enrolled their own children in no-tech or low-tech schools. They also refused their children cell phones until they were age fourteen. Shouldn't children who cannot afford private school have the same opportunity attend a safe school that offers a computer-free education? It's a conversation that parents are often left out of.
We should be proactive and have the courage to engage in meaningful conversations without judgement. Since I had posed questions about EMFs/wifi radiation in sessions I attended, by the end of conference, others were approaching me to find out more. This is a topic that is not going away.
The conference was great! I learned so much and met some great people. I hope by next year's conference, in addition to Dr. Dunckley, RFPs will be accepted from experts such as Dr. David Carpenter, Dr. Martha Herbert, Dafna Tachover, and other experts. I hope we have the opportunity to attend sessions on the latest science on 5G radiation and Internet of Things. A screening of Generation Zapped or Stare into the Lights My Pretties may be arranged. If we as adults are going to protect children from the dilatory effects screen time and the high-tech revolution, we must be informed and not shy away from the complexity and controversy of it all.