When I see children hunched over laptops at school or images of young children gleefully swaying in class with virtual reality devices pressed up against their faces, I cringe. These children are putting their fragile eyes at great risk. If a society is judged by how it protects the most vulnerable, we are failing our children.
The masterminds of the new educational technology have linked arms with the self-promoting ambitious politicians who sit on boards of education at every level to create an unconscionable situation: our children are for sale, and their health is of no consequence to those who profit every day from the latest gizmos.
Tech toys — from laptops to virtual reality gadgets — are promoted as tools to prepare our children for the future. While it remains to be seen how effective these devices are for education, they are indisputably big business with a bright future. Billion-dollar big. In addition to selling devices, software and tech services (and lifelong brand loyalty that starts at ever younger ages) and potentially tracking our kids’ online activities to secure personalized advertising opportunities for life, now Ed Tech firms can’t wait for our children to have a toy pressed up against their faces, too, so little kids can experience “virtual reality” in class, creating a whole new market.
What this unholy alliance between schools and Ed Tech firms has kept extraordinarily quiet is the growing medical evidence that these devices can physically hurt our children. If we don’t protect them, this generation of children will pay the price: Their vision will be damaged.
Myopia — permanent nearsightedness — is reaching epic proportions in this country and worldwide. The cause? Screen time, according to the University of Southern California, which has just completed the largest study ever done. Childhood myopia has doubled in the United States in the past 50 years, and experts have identified increased use of digital devices as the major culprit.
Screen time brings blue light emissions as well. That can ruin young eyes because that nasty damaging ray goes right to the back of a child’s eye, which doesn’t have the ability to protect itself because of a lack of pigmentation. Because they are still growing, children’s eyes are more vulnerable than adults’. According to experts, the potential for early macular degeneration, which leads to blindness, is real. The blue light keeps children up at night, too, by reducing melatonin. The tech companies know it. That’s why there’s a whole suite of new filters for sale. Another industry is born.
Of course we want our kids to be fluent with technology and compete in a global economy, and of course their world will be dominated by screens, so their proficiency is mandatory. But schools need to live up to their duty of care to protect students; implementing safety precautions in the classroom is critical.
Has anyone at your child’s school warned you about potential dangers of using digital devices? Did your school send home any safety guidelines, even something as simple as “take frequent breaks and look away from the monitor”? No, I didn’t think so. Why aren’t parents warned of the health risks posed by school equipment?
It’s an excellent question. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has protected office workers from many of the same computer-related health hazards since 1997, so it’s no secret. Children are even more susceptible to injury, so why isn’t anyone standing up to protect them? Where are the pediatricians? Haven’t they noticed that many of our kids use screens every day at school? Why are they silent? Where are the children’s eye doctors? Prescribing “computer glasses” is hardly the answer and leaves disadvantaged children disadvantaged, again.
We can’t wait for our children to start experiencing vision loss and the dry eyes, blurry vision, headaches, neck/shoulder pain and sleeplessness associated with computer vision syndrome before action is taken. They are not lab rats whose injuries, a few years from now, will provide evidence-based support for safety requirements. Or are they?
The Rules Committees in the Maryland House of Delegates needs to schedule hearings on a bill now before it that would mandate the creation of computer safety guidelines in Maryland classrooms, HB1524. A hearing is scheduled on a Senate bill, SB1150, on Wednesday.
Lawmakers need to ensure that students are no longer sacrificial lambs to this craven educational alliance where everyone profits, while our children are damaged.