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.

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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 www.screensandkids.us and I hope you'll follow this issue on Twitter @screensandkids.

Thanks again. Happy holidays.