Parents and teachers worry about how much time young children and adolescents spend in front of hypnotizing computer, phone, and television screens and its impact on brain, emotional and intellectual development. In 2018, the average age for American kids receiving their first “smartphone” was about ten. Half of all children in the United States are on Facebook or one of the other social media platforms by age twelve. According to surveys conducted with teenagers, approximately one-fourth report they are online “almost constantly.” The Safer Internet Centre, based in Great Britain, reports that 22% of children between the ages of 8 to 17 had been victims of cyber-bullying. Meanwhile a study by a team at San Diego State University found that teenagers who spend more time online are less happy than peers involved in other activities. The lead researcher, Jean Twenge, attributed rising rates of teenage depression to increased use of social media and time spent online.
National Institutes of Health study on brain development found that children who spend more than two hours a day looking at computer, phone and television screens get lower scores on thinking and language tests than their peers and that their actual brains appear to diverge from normal development patterns. According to Dr. Gaya Dowling of the NIH, “MRI's found significant differences in the brains of some kids who use smartphones, tablets, and video games more than seven hours a day . . . The colors show differences in the nine and ten-year-olds' brains. The red color represents premature thinning of the cortex. That's the wrinkly outermost layer of the brain that processes information from the five senses.” Dr. Kara Bagot, an investigator on the NIH study, suspects that excess screen time has an addictive affect on children and teens. “Screen time stimulates the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which has a pivotal role in cravings and desire.”
The Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for screen time recommend that parents “avoid digital media use, except video chatting, in children younger than 18 to 24 months.” Dr. Dimitri Christakis of the Seattle Children's Hospital and lead author of the guidelines worries that we are in the midst of an “uncontrolled experiment on the next generation of children.” According to Dr. Christakis, babies playing with iPads don't transfer what they learn from the iPad to the real world. “If you give a child an app where they play with virtual Legos, virtual blocks, and stack them, and then put real blocks in front of them, they start all over.”
None of this has stopped predator cyber companies from promoting more and more online products targeting children and parents who think they will give their kids an educational boost. Pearson Education, which calls itself the “world's learning company” just announced a partnership between its Pearson Realize™ sub-division and Google making Pearson Realize a Google for Education Premier Partner. Students will have easier access to thousands of interactive “learning resources and assignments,” including one of the largest libraries of online “formative assessments.” For those unaccustomed to education jargon, that means kids can spend lots of time taking practice tests to prepare them for Pearson prepared and delivered high-stakes standardized tests. Another benefit of the partnership, at least for Pearson and Google, is that “Teachers can import rosters from Google Classroom and create new classes in Realize. When they assign Realize content to students, scores flow into Realize and are recorded in Google Classroom as well.” Everything is seamless, but the process manages to ignore learning by actual human beings.
While Pearson and Google are busy trying to replace teachers and teaching with online test prep, human contact, the kind children need to flourish, is becoming a luxury good for the wealthy. According to a recent New York Times Sunday Review column, “The rich have grown afraid of screens. They want their children to play with blocks, and tech-free private schools are booming. Humans are more expensive, and rich people are willing and able to pay for them.” While tech companies push public schools to invest in a laptop per child and expensive “learning” programs, in Silicon Valley the techies send their own children to the local private Waldorf School, which offers a back-to-nature, nearly screen-free education and shies away from the high-stakes standardized testing the tech companies promote for other people’s children.
Dr. Sherry Turkle, a professor of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fears that the push for online education programs and more screen time in schools is the equivalent of addicting our children to “fast food.”
To express outrage with the Pearson-Google partnership, contact Scott Overland, the director of Media Relations for Pearson at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can call him at (202)909-4520.
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