This week’s post is from Cindy Eckard, who, much to her surprise, is spending a lot of her time these days working to decrease the risks of screen time for children.
The schools’ demands for ever more digital device use has parents worried, and for good reason. Many moms ask me, “How much screen time is safe for my child?” But focusing exclusively on the amount of screen time may not get to the heart of the matter, because it’s just too complicated a health issue for a cookie-cutter solution.
The best way to approach the problem is to have a complete examination of your own children’s health and their specific requirements so you can protect them. That’s a concrete determination from medical professionals that cannot be refuted by the schools.
This means a full physical and a dilated eye exam (be sure to ask about dry eye disease, too – it’s critical) and a full understanding of the kids’ overall habits as they impact sleep, healthy weight, mental health, academic performance and overall healthy development.
Are your children becoming nearsighted? Overweight? Having trouble sleeping? Depressed or anxious? Unable to stop using a device? These health issues are all directly associated with daily use of devices. Armed with data about your own children’s health, you can ask for specific adjustments in the classroom, based on your doctors’ perspectives and your role as a parent. You can demand that your child’s health is not negatively impacted and remind the teachers and school administration of their legal obligation to provide a safe learning environment (their “duty of care”).
Next, ask for a full accounting of your own children’s daily screen experiences at school and the schools’ requirements for more screen use at home for studying. Determine if proper seating and lighting are employed in the classroom, per the manufacturers’ safety warnings. This is where it gets very interesting.
Is your school heeding manufacturers’ safety warnings?
Few – if any – central offices actually share the manufacturers’ safety warnings with the schools, the teachers, the students or the parents. There are hundreds of pages documenting the safe use of this equipment to avoid what HP and Dell (makers of Chromebooks, by the way) describe as “serious bodily harm.”
The makers of the equipment have already done all this homework; the school systems are just conveniently not sharing it – or heeding it. How many schools allow students to sit humped over screens, or balance the devices on their laps? Laptops were never intended to be used as full time workstations – they are ergonomically unsafe, and need to be mitigated with a monitor stand for proper height (adjustable, for growing children), an exterior keyboard and an exterior mouse.
Here are some links and details to share with your school. Request that their digital devices are used in a safe manner – which means employing the manufacturers’ guidelines for health and safety:
“If this portable computer is used for continuous operation, it is recommended that you connect an external keyboard.”
HP safety guide – extensive
lightweight, inexpensive, folding monitor stand:
lightweight, inexpensive exterior mouse and keyboard
It becomes evident very quickly that “screen time” is only part of the problem. How the devices are configured, the lighting in the room and the glare on the screens, the lack of recess and sunlight (which profoundly increases myopia risks in growing kids who are already predisposed for nearsightedness) and homework on a device (ruining sleep, and adding to obesity, anxiety and related conditions like diabetes) play just important a role in negatively impacting our children’s health as the amount of time they’re on the devices.
Taking frequent breaks, stretching and blinking are key health components, for instance, that often get overlooked in screen health conversations. These simple healthy opportunities are all but impossible in a standardized testing environment, which can last as long as 110 minutes per unit for growing kids who are helpless to protect themselves from being literally hurt – blurry vision, dry eyes, headaches – from the tools the schools insist they use.
At the bottom of my last blog entry, I’ve offered specifics suggestions for schools to follow. It’s long and detailed for those who want substantial research, but should help get some conversations started for those who just want the basics. Hopefully, it will help you fast track the conversation.
Q: How do you push back against the language from teachers and parents who say “but this is the society they live in. Phones, etc., are all part of that.”
I tell them that the future for which they are preparing their children should be the healthiest possible and that they are enabling their children’s health to be destroyed – now, and in the future. When kids get damaged while they are still growing, the long-term impacts are significant.
Severe myopia will blind thousands of children who are staring into screens at school right now because, while it may just be a new pair of glasses every year while they’re young (and if they’re lucky), the long-term result may be glaucoma or retinal detachment.
Retinal cells are being destroyed by the screens’ blue light. They’re not coming back, and that will lead to macular degeneration, a blinding condition, that used to be reserved for very old eyes. Children’s eyes lack the lens pigmentation adults have developed that mitigates some of this retinal cell death, making children the most vulnerable to long-term damage.
Little kids are obese, getting asthma, and suffering from hypertension. Little kids. These same kids will needlessly suffer heart disease later in life. It’s absolutely unconscionable, especially when some common sense measures like additional recess and no online homework could go so far to protect them from this avoidable misery. Avoidable misery caused by their schools.
Protecting children’s health is not mutually exclusive from benefiting from the devices they’re using. We must have both. That’s what I tell parents – when I can get them to look up from their own phones. And teachers? I remind them that they are legally obligated to provide a safe learning environment, and that must include the safe use of the schools’ hazardous digital devices. Just like OSHA provides office workers, and has since the 1990s.