Children and Cyber-Technology

Recently, I attended a lecture on media-cyber education for children at a brand new high school facility. With my daughter in the 6th grade, I was interested both from a broader educational perspective, as well as to tour the high school as a possibility for my daughter’s future.

The hostess greeted me at the door and, somewhat to my surprise and secret delight, invited me to wander about the building – alone. I walked down a long corridor and into a darkened room and then, on a sudden impulse, I pulled out my electrosmog meter – a device which measures radio-frequency radiation and magnetic fields.

Immediately it registered elevated microwave radiation.  As I moved towards the center of the room, the levels continued to rise at which point I looked up, and…bingo…there was the wifi router with its green LED light ominously announcing its presence.

WiFi in schools are the latest “upgrade” to the education system here in the U.S. and globally.  The Seattle Public School system states with manifesto-like authority on its website that “all schools will have wireless networks.”  That includes elementary schools. Leaving aside the question of whether it is wise to be in such a hurry to teach computer literacy to first graders, there are other, safer (i.e. wired) methods to build computer networks, that do not expose young bodies and brains to microwave radiation, not to mention the teachers.

The Washington Department of Health assures us that “there is no clear and consistent evidence that low levels of RF fields, such as produced by WiFi equipment, have any adverse health effects in people”, cell-phone-industry-studies-vs-non-funded-researchwhich is an ambiguous and euphemistic way of saying that there is controversy because the telecommunications industry has spent untold millions on “scientific research”. There is plenty of evidence that does indeed suggest adverse health effects from WiFi.

Since I’ve already written at length about WiFi in schools (here and here), I refer you to those articles for reference.

Cyber-safety for children

The following notes were compiled from a talk given by Lori Getz.

*The most dangerous situation is communication with strangers online. Some children may attempt to conceal their online relationships, not understanding the potential consequences. Therefore, it is imperative to have conversations with your child, setting clear rules, boundaries, and putting online safety controls in place.

*The internet is connected to the entire world – 2 billion users, and 2 trillion destinations. Would you deliver your child to the middle of a major city, leave her on a street corner and then say – “see you in an hour or two? “ Of course not. But if we don’t know where they are surfing on the internet, then we are effectively doing that.

*What is the difference between a friend, acquaintance and a stranger? Just because someone gives your avatar (player) a diamond necklace in an online game, that does not make them your new best friend. Children need parents to help them make these discernments.

*There is no online parental safety filter or control which can substitute for parental awareness. Rule of thumb – it’s not a good idea to let middle school children play online multi-player games unless a parent is present. Otherwise it is too easy for them to be exposed to and potentially manipulated by strangers.

*If you are going to let your children play computer games, the parent should play the game first to understand the messaging.

*There is no such thing as online privacy in an absolute sense. Facebook and Google and Microsoft user agreements, for example,  grant them the rights to retain and use anything you post or write. Privacy is properly understood as having some (limited) control over the flow of information and who in the public can see your posts. Once the information is out there though, it can’t be retrieved.  Children (and many adults) lack impulse control. They can’t fathom that a potential future employer might gain access to the information contained in a post or an Instagram pic, or that a college admissions officer might look at it, particularly if the child is applying for a scholarship.

*FOMO – Fear of missing out. Children now frequently use social media as a measure of their own self-worth. Their emotions swing wildly up and down based on who is talking about them, or not talking about them, or what they are saying. We need to have more conversations with our kids helping them understand healthy ways to feel good about themselves. Some suggested conversations: What do you want to share online? With whom? Why? One selfie may be fun, but twenty probably signals an attempt to get attention. Our children are trying to figure out where they fit in. It’s up to parents to help them or else they will make their decisions based upon what they are exposed to on social media.

*Distractibility. Kids develop learning problems more readily when they are always tied to their gadgets. The body even learns to produce its own dopamine based on imagined signals from electronic devices –  “phantom vibration syndrome”. Help children do one thing at a time by modeling that behavior yourself. Children today operate increasingly from their pre-frontal cortex and not in their hippocampus. The hippocampus emphasizes connections between the left and ride sides of the brain.  They perform well on tests, but a few hours later, retain nothing. It is likely that device distraction plays a role in this learning deficit. One possible strategy is to place a basket in the home for placing devices and cords for when they aren’t being used which discourages having them always tethered to the body.

*Do not let children sleep with a device in their bed. Their sleep will suffer due to lowered melatonin (sleep hormone) levels. The brain gets tricked by electronic stimulation and back-lit screens.  The Kindle Paperwhite screen seems to be a notable exception.

*EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies) should be a concern.

*Posture – when the body is DSCN0609hunched forward in texting mode (adult?), it places 60 pounds of stress on the spine/neck, whereas when the head and shoulders are held relaxed and upright, only 20 pounds of stress.  Practice (and provide) good ergonomics for computer use.

*For every one hour of screen time, there should be one hour of movement. 4 hours a week of exercise at minimum.

“Is my child addicted to video games?” There is a difference between a habit and an addiction. Lots of resources online.

*Talk to other parents about playdate rules so that kid play does not center around electronic games at the expense of exercise and movement.




2 thoughts on “Children and Cyber-Technology”

  1. Wonderful job, Jordan!!! You never cease to amaze me with your articulate expression, confidence, research, compassion, diligence, focus, fortitude, insight, “pursue”ence, and willingness to dedicate such time to your passionate and informative views.
    Keep up the good, no, GREAT work. As a compassionate watchdog, you bring light into the dark corners of our consciousness with your ability to open humanity’s mind to other possibilities…possibilities that create a healthier, balanced, harmonious world.

    🙂 blessings and hugs.

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