Prior to this past March, Prince William County Schools (PWCS) relied on teacher-led classroom learning. Though the School Board had budgeted for more computers as part of learning enhancement, computers were not in the hands of most students yet.
Then schools closed for COVID-19 quarantine. What happened to the children? While we have no statistics to prove it, we believe they turned to TV, texting on their smart phones, gaming on their tablets, and social media to communicate with friends: all screens!
According to Thomas Kersting, “Try eight or more hours per day, on average, seven days a week, staring at the bright lights of smartphones, tablets, and computer screens. The result: a new brain” (Kersting, Disconnected: How to Reconnect our Digitally Distracted Kids, 2016).
Prior to 2009, most kids diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) were in elementary and middle school. Then Kersting began to see an increase in teens diagnosed with ADHD and wondered why.
According to Kersting, “A December 2015 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found…’The number of teen agers diagnosed with ADHD rose 52 percent between 2003 and 2015…while ADHD is traditionally more common in boys than girls, the study also found a 55-percent increase in girls being diagnosed with the disorder…’ Kersting concluded: “I believe the increase in ADHD diagnoses has everything to do with the amount of time children are spending in front of screens.”
Kersting cited a 2008 Kaiser Foundation study that tracked four media types youth engage with: television, computers, video games, and music devices. Smart phones or tablets weren’t relevant in 2008.
“if young folks spend most of their time communicating through text messaging rather than face-to-face, the brain will weed out the neural pathways that are necessary for becoming a good face-to-face communicator…Job recruiters have told me that when they interview recent college graduates, it seems as if something is missing. Job candidates lack charisma and display poor social skills.”
Hear Mari Swingle: “For children, adolescents, and youth, excessive usage of digital media is now highly associated with learning disabilities, emotional dysregulation, as well as conduct or behavioral disorders…I am also starting to note some rather frightening connections with thwarted emotional and cognitive development in the very young.” (iMinds: How Cell Phones, Computers, Gaming, and Social Media Are Changing Our Brains, Our Behavior, and the Evolution of Our Species, 2016). Dr. Swingle, a board-certified neurotherapist, regularly works with youth and teens in her Vancouver practice.
“Excessive usage of digital media has a concrete relationship to ADHD, autism, and mood deregulation including anxiety, depression, and anger management, other forms of addiction, and all behaviors on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum,” Swingle says.
Swingle is not anti-technology. It’s an accepted part of our culture. However, she poses a caveat: “First, to what extent are we immersed in digital technologies and why? Second, is our usage integrated or interfering? Problems stem from why and how we use the medium, not if we do or don’t use it.”
Currently, students doing virtual learning spend five to six hours per day with instruction. Then they spend more hours doing assignments, many dependent on the internet for completion!
When school work is finished, what do our kids do? Check social media? Play games on their devices? Text their friends? Watch TV? If students already feel depressed, anxious or fearful, how do they handle it? More screen exposure? Swingle sees that as an indicator to monitor.
“If (technology) replaces or eliminates eye-to-eye communication, or overrides the development of states and traits including observation, patience, and developing the ability to be comfortable in silence, we should be cautious…” says Swingle.
Is COVID alone causing the upsurge in teen depression, suicidal ideation or suicide? Might all the exposure to screens have lowered kids’ ability to deal with stress, compounded by COVID constraints?
Schools do not merely train our kids academically. They are the hothouse where social skills and interpersonal relationships are developed. They normalize our students’ lives at all ages and stages of their development. To rob them of those necessary stepping-stones is to stunt their growth emotionally and socially, some or most of that irretrievable.
The Family Alliance wants our students to learn well under COVID constraints, but not be robbed of their interpersonal, behavioral and social relationships by overexposure to electronics. Our children’s futures are at stake! Get our kids back into school ASAP! Please hurry!
— Posted by Tom Salmon for Doris, a fellow member of the Prince William and Manassas Family Alliance