Friday, December 30, 2016

Comments by Cindy Eckard
Classroom Computer Safety Press Conference
Friday, December 23, 2016

Thanks for joining us today. Many thanks to Ward One Alderman Joe Budge for being here to welcome Paula to Annapolis. Of course, thank you, Paula Poundstone for bringing a national spotlight to this critical issue.  I have a gift for you, filled with Maryland tokens of our appreciation.

I'd also like to take a moment to thank Laura Price and the entire Rams Head crew who have so graciously and enthusiastically hosted this event.

I worked for decades in high tech communications, so I've long been aware of the dangers of screen time.  When I learned that my child would have to use a laptop for school, I assumed there were already safety regulations in place.  I was shocked to learn that Maryland students have none, even though OSHA has protected workers from the same dangers since the 1990s.  There is nothing to prevent our kids from being strapped to a computer all day long at school, and suffering from a variety of health issues because of it.

Medical researchers are pointing to an array of serious health issues that threaten children who are using digital devices. What's important to understand is that children are still developing, so they react differently than adults do, and in some cases, suffer more permanent damage becasue of screen time. 

For instance, the pigment in an adult eye acts a little bit like sunglasses, so adult eyes have more protection from the screen's damaging blue light.  A child's eye hasn't developed that pigment yet, so that blue light is going straight to his retina. Over time, this can blind a child. And because the schools are demanding ever more screen time, this is a serious public health threat.

But it's just one of the dangers our kids now face at school. Myopia is epidemic in our country and growing. The USC Eye Institute knows why: screen time.  Serious myopia brings more risks later in life: cataracts, glaucoma and detched retinas.

The screens' blue light also suppresses melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep. When the kids have to do homework on these devices, they have trouble falling asleep. Kids act differently when they're tired, according to the Sleep Foundation, who reports that children get wound up and over-active instead of sluggish. As a result, many are misdiagnosed with ADHD, when the children were simply exhausted. Obesity is also linked to sleeplessness, and with obesity, comes another host of concerns, like diabetes.

And increasingly, scientists are observing psychological problems emerging from daily device use among children: addiction, depression and anxiety are on the rise. Families are being torn apart, and lives are being ruined by the dependence these children are developing on their virtual world. A world that the schools are encouraging more and more each day, as lesson plans all move to the screen.

How much screen time is appropriate? I have no idea. No one does right now. That's why we need the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to determine safe thresholds for each stage of development for our children. These are serious health threats to our sons and daughters. Parents are demanding that their children are taken out of harm's way, and protected from the known and avoidable risks Maryland students now face in school.

I've also asked the American Academy of Pediatrics lead researcher to look into this issue, since their most recent set of guidelines failed to mention the use of screens for school work. She responded: "Our current guidelines are focused on the media environment at home, and parents’ role in this environment as media role models and mentors... our AAP guidelines are quite explicit in focusing on media use for entertainment (not for educational purposes) at home. " 

So please know that those new American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines have nothing to do with the situation in our schools.

Delegate Steve Arentz is my hero and should be yours too. He is taking this issue on, and will sponsor the legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session that will direct the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to do its job and protect Maryland's most vulnerable citizens from being hurt by their school equipment. We must teach our children how to compete in an electronic world, without harming them in the process.

Legislative updates and research documents will be posted at and I hope you'll follow this issue on Twitter @screensandkids.

Thanks again. Happy holidays.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

WBAL TV coverage of the 
Paula Poundstone Press Conference
on Maryland classroom screen safety legislation

Friday, December 23, 2016

December 23, 2016
Press Release
MD classroom screen safety legislation press conference

(ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND) In a press conference held at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis on Dec. 23, award-winning comedian, author, actress and activist Paula Poundstone urged Maryland lawmakers to pass a bill that will direct the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to determine medical guidelines for the safe use of digital devices in Maryland classrooms.

"It makes all of the sense in the world to put decisions about the health of our children's brains into the hands of health professionals. We don't ask the schools to govern how many immunizations we give them," Ms. Poundstone, who advocates for classroom screen safety in her home state of California, said.

Delegate Steve Arentz (R-Dist. 36) is sponsoring the effort: "More and more experts are proving that there are serious risks to our kids' health because they spend every day on a digital device. Maryland students need to get the most out of this technology, so we want medical professionals to lead us in a safe direction. It's a win for education and a win for our children's long-term health. Let's get uniform screen safety regulations put in place by doctors who know what's best for growing children."

The legislation seeks to provide protections for Maryland students in the same way that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) protects office workers. OSHA has regulated the use of computer monitors since the 1990s noting many of the same health risks that students face today in class: digital eye strain, myopia, retinal damage, sleeplessness and psychological problems such as addiction, depression and anxiety.

Cindy Eckard, a mother of two Maryland public school children, has been urging lawmakers to regulate classroom screen safety, citing voluminous scientific research. She has created a blog ( where the public can learn more about the health risks children face when required to use a digital device every day in school, and into the evening, for homework.

Ms. Eckard laughs when asked if she doesn't like technology. "My entire career was spent in high tech communications, " she explains, "Of course I want my children to master technology; I just don't want them to be injured by it. Eye experts are worried that children are actually going to be blinded by these devices, and so am I."

Citing several research studies, Ms. Eckard identified five major health risks that she says the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene needs to address, to ensure that Maryland students have a safe learning environment at school: myopia, retinal damage, musculoskeletal aches and pains, sleeplessness and psychological damage.

Health advocates around the country, such as Prevent Blindness and the National Center for Children’s Vision and Eye Health are watching the Maryland legislation.

Prevent Blindness Chief Operating Officer Jeff Todd writes: "Recent research finds that 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. We commend Maryland’s efforts to ensure children’s vision, eye health, and safety is at the forefront of your state’s efforts related to childhood development."

Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, PhD, LCSW-R, a nationally recognized addiction expert and author of Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids, writes: "Over 200 peer-reviewed clinical studies correlate excessive screen usage with disorders such as ADHD, addiction, anxiety, depression, increased aggression, mood dysregulation and even psychosis... Indeed, many of the studies indicate that even moderate screen exposure can be clinically problematic for some children... I commend the screen safety effort in Maryland and encourage the General Assembly to pass legislation that will mandate medically sound classroom regulations," Dr. Kardaras wrote in a statement.

Dr. Geoffrey Goodfellow, OD, FAAO, is an Associate Professor at the Illinois College of Optometry and an attending optometrist in the Pediatrics/Binocular Vision Service of the Illinois Eye Institute. Regarding the Maryland classroom screen safety legislation, Dr. Goodfellow writes: "All of our eyes are under stress more than ever before. Whether it is blurry vision, tired eyes, headaches, increased nearsightedness, double vision, or red eyes, we know that our world full of digital devices can have lots of unintended consequences. This doesn’t even include the more non-eye related implications such as sleep disturbances or addiction propensities. I wish Maryland success in your labor to promote digital screen safety awareness."

Statewide support is also in place. The Children's Environmental Health and Protection Advisory Council (CEHPAC) sent a letter of support for a similar bill last year, noting the need for regulations to protect students from the environmental health risks posed by daily digital device use in the classroom.

And Maryland parents are also endorsing the legislation. ABC Schools writes: "Advocates for Baltimore County Schools (ABCSchools), the largest public education advocacy coalition in Baltimore County, will support the 2017 Maryland General Assembly bill to develop objective computer health and safety guidelines for Maryland schools. Our students must be protected from well-documented potential impacts on the musculoskeletal system, vision, sleep, cognitive development, and social-emotional development."

Lisa Cline, a Montgomery County parent and Fields Road Elementary School PTA president agrees. "Our kids deserve every protection possible. Technology is not going away. This bill ensures that kids use it safely so none of us looks back someday and says, 'We should have...'.

For further information, contact Cindy Eckard at Follow @screensandkids on Twitter, and visit for detailed medical research.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Comedian Paula Poundstone to perform at Rams Head, advocate for screen safety legislation

From The Capital newspaper, Thursday, December 22, 2016:

"It would be doing the rest of the country an enormous service," Poundstone said. "As (Maryland) experiences the positive symptoms of making that change, everyone else will be green with envy."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

The New York Post, Sunday, December 18, 2016

"But not all parents are drinking the screens-are-wonderful Kool-Aid — some are fighting back.

Cindy Eckard, a Maryland mother of two, is launching a grass-roots campaign to create legislation to limit screen time in schools and is testifying in front of a state Senate subcommittee hearing this month.

“I was shocked to learn that the Maryland State Department of Education had no medically sound health guidelines in place before they put so many of our children in front of a computer every day . . . The schools keep encouraging more screen time in the classroom without any regard for our children’s well-being,” Eckard told me. “Our children are owed a safe classroom environment, and right now they’re not getting one.” "

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Documented Health 
Risks for Students 
who use
Digital Devices Daily
by Cindy Eckard
screensandkids @

1. Increased 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.”

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 Johns Hopkins University 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.” 

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."

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." 

All About Vision:  "Moderate and high myopia sometimes are associated with serious, vision-threatening side effects" such as cataracts,  retinal detachment and glaucoma.

2. 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."

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. 

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."

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."

A very good video that explains the physiology of blue light on the eye.

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."

3. 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, to complete their assignments.

OSHA has regulated the use of computers in the workplace since the 1990s  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."

"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."

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."

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

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.

4. 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 digital devices, which brings a host of additional serious health risks. 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."

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."

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."

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. "

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.”

5. Increased propensity for psychological issues
The constant use of digital devices is causing psychological problems for many young people whose reliance on virtual experiences is replacing actual interaction with friends and family. Some experts, such as Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, report that digital device use leads to additional mental health issues for young children such as depression and anxiety, as well as pornography, gaming and gambling addictions. 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. 

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."

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Delegate Steve Arentz to sponsor 
Maryland Screen Safety Legislation 

Delegate Steve Arentz (R- District 36) will sponsor legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session to direct Maryland agencies to create uniform screen safety guidelines for public schools to protect children from the documented health hazards posed by daily use of digital devices.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Press conference at Rams Head Tavern 
1:30 on Friday, December 23, 2016
Paula Poundstone endorses Maryland classroom screen safety bill

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND Award-winning comedian, author, actress and activist Paula Poundstone will hold a press conference at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis at 1:30 on Friday, December 23rd to express her support for Maryland legislation that will create classroom computer safety regulations.  Ms. Poundstone is active in her Santa Monica, California community, advocating for digital device limits in public school classrooms.

In the upcoming General Assembly session, Maryland lawmakers will consider legislation that directs the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to develop medically sound classroom guidelines that will protect students from the documented risks that digital devices pose to children: increased myopia, retinal damage, digital eye strain, macular degeneration, sleeplessness, obesity, addiction, anxiety and depression.

Ms. Poundstone, a mother of three, will share her perspective on the health issues caused by screen time and urge Maryland lawmakers to pass legislation in the upcoming session that will set an example for the rest of the country.

Cindy Eckard has two children who attend Maryland public schools. She has written Op Eds for both the Baltimore Sun, and the Washington Post advocating for the protection of Maryland students in the classroom. Ms Eckard will announce a new blog that will provide the public with detailed peer-reviewed medical research to support the need for medical oversight and statewide classroom screen safety regulations.

The press conference will be held in the On Stage room at Rams Head Tavern, located at 33 West Street in Annapolis. For further information, contact Cindy Eckard at PLEASE NOTE: The event will be live streamed on Periscope. Follow @screensandkids on Twitter.

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