MD Screen Safety Advocate’s General Assembly Testimony: Documented Health Risks of Children’s Daily Computer Use

November 2016 presentation to the Maryland General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Cybersecurity, Information Technology and Biotechnology (Chairs: Senator Jim Rosapepe, Delegate Bill Frick)

Documented Health Risks to Children Who Use Computers Daily

by Cindy Eckard (screensandkids@gmail.com)

  1. Increased, irreversible myopia

Because long-term fixed distance viewing is very well known to promote nearsightedness, the pre-teen and teenage developmental precondition for myopia is being exacerbated when middle school kids are required to stare at a computer for excessive periods of time. 10 – 15 year-old children are already prone to myopia; it’s the shape their eyes are taking at this stage in their physical development.

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Myopia is the most common eye problem of the teen years,” says Dr. Harold P. Koller, a pediatric ophthalmologist from Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania, and clinical professor of ophthalmology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “In kids who are genetically programmed to be nearsighted,” he explains, “the eyeball grows too long from front to back, usually during the growth spurt.” https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/eyes/Pages/Myopia-Nearsightedness.aspx

USC researchers working with the National Institute of Health concluded that daily screen time has caused myopia to double among children in the U.S.. African-American and Asian children showed a higher propensity for myopia than did Caucasian children. The lead researcher is a former Wilmer Eye Institute resident.

University of Southern California: “While research shows there is a genetic component, the rapid proliferation of myopia in the matter of a few decades among Asians suggests that closeup work and use of mobile devices and screens on a daily basis, combined with a lack of proper lighting or sunlight, may be the real culprit behind these dramatic increases.” https://news.usc.edu/91007/usc-eye-institute-study-seeks-cures-to-childhood-myopia

The Vision Council: “While adults with computer-oriented jobs seem to be the prime targets of over-exposure to digital devices, one in four children use these devices more than three hours a day. This exposure, which occurs both at school and at play, poses a risk to children’s developing eyes. accelerated myopia, or nearsightedness, is just one potentially troubling byproduct of too much screen time.”

https://www.thevisioncouncil.org/sites/default/files/VC_DigitalEyeStrain_Report2015.pdf

Students are further disadvantaged in middle school, because right when they need recess the most — the one activity that has been proven to mitigate myopia — they are denied any regular outdoor play:

American Academy of Ophthalmology: “Encouraging children to spend more time outdoors may be a simple and cost-effective way to improve their vision as well as general health, according to several recent studies. They add to the growing evidence that spending time outdoors may lower the risk of nearsightedness in children and adolescents. Nearsightedness is more common today in the United States and many other countries than it was in the 1970s.” http://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/time-outdoors-reduces-nearsightedness

All About Vision: “Moderate and high myopia sometimes are associated with serious, vision-threatening side effects” such as cataracts, retinal detachment and glaucoma. http://www.allaboutvision.com/parents/myopia-progression.htm

  1. Retinal damage and premature macular degeneration

The UV blue light emissions that damage the back of our eyes are better able to penetrate children’s eyes because the kids are not blinking, and because a child’s eye doesn’t have the necessary pigmentation to protect against the blue light. So the child is literally staring into a computer with damaging blue light penetrating right to the back of his eye.

University of Iowa: “As we stare at the computer screen or while reading, our blink rate decreases. We actually blink 66% less while working on the computer. This will cause your eyes to feel dry and to burn.” https://www.uihealthcare.org/2column.aspx?id=225650

WRAL (Raleigh-Durham): Children’s and teen’s eyes are still developing, and the protective pigments in their eyes that is beneficial in filtering some of the harmful blue light has not fully developed yet… Children and young adults who use smart phones and tablets are at risk of potential irreversible eye damage because of blue light emissions from digital devices. Serious problems begin to occur with your eyes when too much exposure to blue light is encountered thru the use of LED Devices. http://www.wral.com/eye-care-center-kids-bluelight/14543845/

Prevent Blindness America: “According to a recent study, children’s eyes absorb more blue light than adults from digital device screens, which is a growing concern as the popularity of cell phones, computers and tablets for school reading and personal use continues to grow each year. Increasing public health data and scientific research describes the eye health effects linked to exposure to digital device light emissions, including Computer Vision Syndrome, eye strain, sleep cycle disruptions and premature retinal damage risk.” http://www.preventblindness.org/childrens-vision-and-electronic-devices

The Washington Post (January 11, 2016) “Computer, iPad and smartphone screens are thought to strain the eyes because they emit blue light or high-energy visible (HEV) light, which reaches far deeper into the eye than other kinds of light and can cause effects that are cumulative.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/01/11/blue-light-from-tech-gadgets-and-digital-eye-strain-more-than-73-percent-of-young-adults-suffer-from-symptoms/

A very good video that explains the physiology of blue light on the eye: http://collettsmart.com/how-much-sleep-do-teenagers-need/

Surgical Specialty Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania: “Continued exposure to blue light can affect the eyes in two ways. First, it may cause eye fatigue. Your eyes may feel dry, irritated and tired after hours of work on the computer or reading emails. This happens to children as well, but it may happen much more rapidly. Children can get headaches from digital eye strain, but it is easy for parents to attribute headaches to other sources. Secondly, blue light is harmful because it is the highest wavelength of visible light. The energy from blue light penetrates all the way to the back of the eye and passes through the eye’s natural filter. Adult eyes have protective pigments that filter some of the harmful wavelengths of blue light, but those pigments are not fully developed in children which leaves them susceptible to eye damage.” http://kingstonsurgerycenter.com/news-article/limit-screen-time-to-protect-your-childs-eyes-04282015

  1. Digital eye strain and musculoskeletal discomforts

Experts in children’s health are quick to point out that children are not just small adults. When using digital devices, kids are often unaware of the discomfort they are experiencing and do not correct their posture or take a break when their eyes get dry or blurry. They suffer more than adults, and don’t do anything about it.

National Institute of Health: “Children can experience many of the same symptoms related to computer use as adults. However, some unique aspects of how children use computers may make them more susceptible than adults to the development of these problems.” For instance, children don’t self-adjust when they experience eye or muscle strain. They just keep working on the computer: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776336/

OSHA has regulated the use of computers in the workplace since the 1990s (https://www.osha.gov/Publications/osha3092.pdf) when significant environmental health symptoms were first documented: dry eyes, painful and blurry eyes as well as muscle pain in the neck/shoulders were the chief complaints. These symptoms are worse for today’s young children who are required to use a device as much as an office worker does. But kids aren’t self-aware enough to recognize and mitigate their own discomfort. And there are no regulations to protect them.

American Optometric Association: “Computer Vision Syndrome, also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use.” http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision/computer-vision-syndrome?sso=y

“Computer Vision Syndrome Threatens Returning Students: (Aug 13, 2007 ) The American Optometric Association (AOA) warned on Aug. 7 that children heading back to school are at risk for developing Computer Vision Syndrome, which leaves them vulnerable to problems like dry eye, eyestrain and fatigue. According to VSP Vision Care, nearly half of U.S. children spend four hours a day or more using computers or other portable electronic devices.” https://ohsonline.com/Articles/2007/08/American-Optometric-Association-Computer-Vision-Syndrome-Threatens-Returning-Students.aspx

Princeton University: “Carpal tunnel syndrome is probably the most widely known repetitive strain injury (RSI), but eyestrain is the most common. If uncorrected, eyestrain can lead to general fatigue, increased myopia (nearsightedness), and a decrease in overall efficiency. Everyone is at risk for eyestrain, especially those who work at a computer for more than three hours a day.” http://uhs.princeton.edu/health-resources/ergonomics-computer-use#eyestrain

The Washington Post (January 11, 2016 ): Blue light from tech gadgets and digital eye strain: More than 73 percent of young adults suffer from symptoms (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/01/11/blue-light-from-tech-gadgets-and-digital-eye-strain-more-than-73-percent-of-young-adults-suffer-from-symptoms/)

The Chicago Tribune (January 6, 2016) Digital eye strain: Symptoms include, in order of prevalence, neck/shoulder/back pain, eye strain, headache, blurred vision and dry eyes. (http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-digital-eye-strain-0106-biz-20160105-story.html).

  1. Sleeplessness and its damaging side effects

Because so much work is done on a computer at school, most homework and studying also has to take place on a computer in the evening. This is especially problematic for our kids because the blue light from the digital devices suppresses a hormone called melatonin, which is necessary for sleep. Our kids are now being deprived of sleep because of the schools’ constant reliance on computers, which brings a host of additional serious health risks to our children. Some kids are actually being misdiagnosed with ADHD, when the truth is, they’re just exhausted.

Frontiers in Health: “The role of light and its influence on many aspects of our physiology, behavior and well-being is increasingly well understood (4–6). In particular, the light/dark cycle is critical in synchronizing the circadian (daily) clock to the 24 h day. The hormone melatonin (“the hormone of darkness”) is produced at night, with the duration of secretion mirroring the dark period, and its production is associated with sleep.” http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpubh.2015.00233/full

NIH: “Youth should be advised to limit or reduce screen time exposure, especially before or during bedtime hours to minimize any harmful effects of screen time on sleep and well-being.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4437561/

Harvard University: “Exposure to blue light at night, emitted by electronics and energy-efficient lightbulbs, [is] harmful to your health. At night, light throws the body’s biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.” http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side

The Sleep Foundation: “Children and adults behave differently as a result of sleepiness. Adults usually become sluggish when tired while children tend to overcompensate and speed up. For this reason, sleep deprivation is sometimes confused with ADHD in children. Children may also be moody, emotionally explosive, and/or aggressive as a result of sleepiness. In a study involving 2,463 children aged 6-15, children with sleep problems were more likely to be inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive, and display oppositional behaviors. ” https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-disorders-problems/adhd-and-sleep

The Washington Post: Blue light from electronics disturbs sleep, especially for teenagers. Harvard sleep expert Dr. Steve Lockey: “Sleep is important for learning, memory, brain development, health … We’re systematically sleep-depriving kids when their brains are still developing, and you couldn’t design a worse system for learning.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/blue-light-from-electronics-disturbs-sleep-especially-for-teenagers/2014/08/29/3edd2726-27a7-11e4-958c-268a320a60ce_story.html

  1. Increased propensity for psychological issues

The constant use of digital devices is emerging as a psychological problem for many young people whose reliance on virtual experiences is replacing actual interaction with friends and family. Some experts, such as Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, are suggesting that digital devices are not only addictive, but lead to additional problems for young children such as depression, anxiety, pornography use and gambling. UCLA research has shown that children are losing their ability recognize emotional expressions in other people’s faces.

TIME Magazine, Dr. Nicholas Kardaras: “Indeed, over two hundred peer-reviewed studies point to screen time correlating to increased ADHD, screen addiction, increased aggression, depression, anxiety and even psychosis.” TIME Magazine, August 13, 2016. http://time.com/4474496/screens-schools-hoax/

UCLA: “UCLA scientists found that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices.” http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/in-our-digital-world-are-young-people-losing-the-ability-to-read-emotions

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#PositiveStories and the #GoodNewsAmbassadors @BCPSSTAT

Is BCPS a business worthy of advertising or an educational institution for Baltimore County’s 112,000 students?

Is it a mechanism for marketing or a place for kids to learn?

Perhaps it’s a futuristic animatronic museum in which our vendors and other school systems from across the country can come see a glimpse into the future.*  To see where humanity is headed, to see the future of America, where, as Superintendent Dance has said, “you can come into a classroom and not even be able to find the teacher.”  Perhaps that’s precisely why our vendors and other school leaders come?  To enthusiastically hashtag -#foundher – when finding one – like a game of “Where’s Waldo?” in a BCPS classroom?

Whatever the reason, this certainly appears to make for an amazing advertising opportunity for our vendors.

#buyfromustoo? #freeadvertising?

It’s no secret that Baltimore County has become the hub of school innovation for the country. Maybe even for the world, according to our Hewlett Packard representative.  Does all of this hashtagging help with the momentum of leading the way?  After all, BCPS and the hashtag did become fast friends under the leadership of BCPS’ current administration.

Walk the Walk Award – DILA 2014 Winner: “Dr. Dance is constantly tweeting to BCPS stakeholders…”

Why not?  As a school system, we have not only embraced technology, but we are rocketing out to space on it.  But what is the impetus behind the advertising?  Who does it serve?  And is it safe?

Some parents on, coincidentally, social media, as well as at BCPS Board of Education meetings, have raised concerns; they do not think that it’s safe. In fact, some think that it’s downright dangerous.  Yet the response to these sentiments has been a familiar-sounding one.  The same response heard time and time again about any hiccups with STAT, Baltimore County’s 1:1 digital initiative: the problem boils down to the professional development of the teachers, they say.

And yet, BCPS’ own Department of Communications and Community Outreach seems to have opened the Wild West of Twitter in the first place. Why is it, then, that the teachers are being pointed to as the ones lacking in social media etiquette? 

BCPS’ Chief Communications Officer, Mychael Dickerson, certainly gave the greenlight. In fact, he suggested it in this June 2015 article, stating:

“We simply asked people to send photos of them wearing Team BCPS Blue and to go to social media to post their pictures or to let us know how they were celebrating Team BCPS Day.  To our surprise we received hundreds of pictures and thousands of tweets and Facebook posts. We also held a competition recognizing the youngest Team BCPS member (mothers-to-be were sending in photos pointing at their stomachs indicating they had the youngest Team BCPS member), the oldest Team BCPS member, the largest Team BCPS group etc., the most spirited, etc.  The pictures and tweets came from all over the world and from all sorts of people to include: students; parents; families; staff members; businesses; religious groups; senior citizen homes and many other organizations and stakeholders. It was an incredible launch and this year was even more successful.”

With almost 60K followers and 10.4K tweets, @BaltCoPS has had a very busy 5 1/2 years since the account opened in April 2011. Discovery Education, one of STAT’s main vendors, which has been on Twitter since 2007, does pretty well with 314K followers and a whopping 25K tweets!

In fact, Discovery Education’s very own National Director of Educational Partnerships – who, incidentally, is also on the Board of Directors for the Education Foundation for Baltimore County Public Schools – even tweeted about us a month ago, stating: “Awesome students share our thoughts-BCPS STAT Initiative. ‘More fun way to learn’ #bcpsstat”

In 2014, BCPS’ Department of Innovation (under their previous name) even gave Hewlett Packard a shout-out! And a BCPS principal took some time to thank Daly Computers (Daly Computers contract)! Meanwhile, teachers tweet about their students being on DreamBox, yet another BCPS vendor.

All of this tweeting and none of it proven to assist with our students’ educational outcomes.

So, whom is this tweeting all about then? Who does it help?  And what is it actually for?  Is this “edu-tising” good for our students or does it serve some higher motive?

Some of us are still waiting for the “how much screen time are the students getting question to be answered.  All of this tweeting and still no answer?

#justsayin’

*From the 11/7/16 BCPS E-Newsletter:

“Dear Team BCPS: This week, BCPS hosted representatives from around the nation who visited our Lighthouse and Passport schools to see firsthand how we are implementing our Theory of Action.

Our visitors were in Baltimore attending the 2016 League of Innovative Schools’ Fall Conference. I am very proud of our students, teachers, and administrators who welcomed these special guests into our classrooms to show them outstanding teaching and learning. I also extend my thanks to all members of Team BCPS who were involved in the planning and implementation of these visits. Our visitors were impressed, and it was truly an amazing experience for all of us.”

BCPS’ New Grading Policy: Part of the Big Personalized Learning Plan

Bottom Line Up Front (but read to the end for important background information):

Due to an outcry from students and parents (and we hope teachers and administrators behind the scenes), the recently revamped BCPS Grading and Reporting Procedures were amended as of 11/1/16.  Here are the changes and a related article: Towson Flyer: Baltimore County schools amending new grading policy

Grading Policy Amendment

Grading Policy Amendment

These amendments were published directly after the 10/31 forum on the new policy held by BCPS Community Superintendents.  Principals and certain parents were invited to attend and provide feedback.

The Rest of the Story

As noted in our one blog post for the month of June (it was the summer!), the BCPS grading policy underwent a major revision effective 7/1/16.

In early August, schools reached out to parents to explain that in 2014 (when STAT was implemented), a grading and reporting committee made up of parents, teachers, and administrators:

” … reviewed grading and reporting practices from across the state and the nation. Based on the information gathered, the committee determined the policy needed to be rewritten to reflect more current research-based practices to better align your child’s grades with his/her achievement of grade-level standards. To that end, the new Board of Education Policy 5210 Grading and Reporting was approved in June of 2015 for full implementation beginning August, 2016.”

New Policy and Rule 5210

” … all student grades will align to identified course or grade-level standards and be based on a “body of evidence.” A body of evidence is simply the information a teacher collects to determine a student’s level of performance. In addition to making sure grades are based on evidence aligned to standards, (BCPS) wants to ensure that the purpose for assigning grades is clear and consistent across all schools. To do this, BCPS established that the primary purpose for determining marking period grades is to accurately communicate a student’s level of achievement in relation to the course expectations at a given point in time.”

(NOTE: This is key to Mastery-Based Education and computer-delivered curriculum)

“The school system commits to providing equitable, accurate, specific, and timely  information regarding student progress towards course expectations which includes feedback to you and your child in order to guide next steps and indicate areas growth areas. To promote alignment to research-based practices and stakeholder input, the committee oversaw the creation of a procedures manual, which is broken down into six guiding practices:

  1. Grading practices must be supportive of student learning.
  2. Marking-period grades will be based solely on achievement of course grade-level standards.
  3. Students will have multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.
  4. Grades will be based on a body of evidence aligned to standards.
  5. A consistent grading scale will be used to score assignments and assessments.
  6. Accommodations and modifications will be provided for exceptional learners.”

This sounds somewhat reasonable and child-centered in theory, except for the fact that ASCD is all over this Research & Rationale, which makes them suspect:

https://www.bcps.org/academics/grading/researchRationale.html

The Sun wrote an article about it, as did the Towson FlyerDr. Dance felt obliged to write an op-ed in the Sun.  BCPS devoted a website page to it; highlights included a video and a MythBusters List.

The New BCPS Grading and Reporting Policy is Explained

As the school year rolled out, unprepared teachers, parents, and students began to realize what was going on and were not happy.  One parent started a petition to rescind the new grading procedures.  Another parent wrote a must-read op-ed about it: Towson Flyer: What’s Behind BCPS’ New Grading Policy?

National ed-blogger Emily Talmage has written about grading policies like BCPS’:  Is Your District Changing its Grading Policy? Here’s the Real Reason Why.

Take the time to read the Towson Flyer op-ed and Talmage’s piece; you’ll understand why the BCPS Grading and Reporting Policy had to change to enable “anytime, anywhere learning.”

Also read this from iNACOL, the International Association of K-12 Online and Blended Learning.  iNACOL has a baby named Competency Works, which offered a detailed report on grading changes needed for Competency-based Education (STAT).

Any school that has begun the journey toward competency education, breaking free of the limitations of the time-based system, will eventually come face-to-face with grading policies and practices. Along with the excitement of creating a new grading system that ignites a dynamic culture of learning will come opportunities to engage students, families and the community in creating a shared vision about the purpose of school. Challenging the traditional system of grading practices, rooted firmly in the American culture with its exhilarating A+ to the dreadful F, will prompt questions, fears, and misconceptions. There are likely to be lively community meetings and even a letter or two in the local newspaper. There will also be the mutual delight when a competency-based grading system is put into place that allows students and teachers to work together toward a shared vision of learning. Most importantly, there will be cause to celebrate as students make progress toward proficiency.”

Mutual delight?