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‘Devices are so addictive:’ Health professionals, Well Wired founders discuss tech in schools after school board discussion

'They often will tend towards the technology and away from playing on the playground'

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- A "letter of concern" by 135 health care professionals was presented to the Bend-La Pine School Board Tuesday night, raising concerns about the use, overuse or misuse of potentially addictive technology in schools, especially in the classroom. 

Though technology-based learning that has been on the rise for decades was even more important during the pandemic, parents and doctors worry that it has become overused.

"We haven't really, pulled back, and it's damaging," said Ami Formica, co-founder of Well Wired, a healthy tech advocacy group. "Now our children's development and their sort of personal development, their connectedness and the educational environment for our kid."

The letter to board members was to encourage a reexamination of tech use in schools.  

"The collaboration offer seems to be open, from the district response," Formica said. "They mentioned a work group that we would love to be a part of, as hopefully should the health care community representative."

In a statement from Bend La Pine Schools' IT director, the district said they share the concerns of professionals, which is why they've implemented phone restrictions.  

"People that work with children are seeing increases in these issues and are legitimately concerned," says Dr. Wendy Laakmann, a child psychologist who spoke at the board meeting.

The chief concern: Overuse of addictive technology in the classroom, especially in younger grades. Advocates for a device control fear devices could limit learning comprehension.

Formica said, "At the meeting last night, we were surprised that there wasn't more weight given to the presentation of the letter from our health care community."

Bend-La Pine Schools are considering changes to the 2024-25 school, year such as limiting device use for students in kindergarten through second grade. Also limiting access to social media like YouTube, and curbing amount of time students can use an app to the length of class time.

Laakmann said, "There's lots of worries about what that's going to do to our mental health, and we're raising our children to become dependent on these things, while the rates of anxiety and depression and ADHD are going up."

"Devices are so addictive that children are preferring them over interacting with their peers," she said. "So you'll see when they have a choice, they often will tend towards the technology and away from playing on the playground."

Well Wired says it conducted a 1,000-parent survey and found that 93% of parents surveyed in Bend-La Pine schools are strongly in favor of a "phone-free school" policy, due to the risks posed to mental health. According to Mental Health America, they said, Oregon’s youth mental health ranked 50 out of 50 states in 2023.

Dr. Katy Broadman is one of the main doctors spearheading the initiative. Her statement is below:

When I sent the letter around, I was really struck by the overwhelmingly positive response I received — nearly everyone I sent it to responded immediately, commenting on what a huge issue this is and on the urgent need for policy changes in our local schools.  I did not ask for their specific concerns, but I know from my own practice as well as prior conversations with many pediatricians and mental health practitioners that we are all seeing more and more kids and teens struggling with mental health issues, along with rising levels of tech addiction and a disconnection from face-to-face socializing. 

As pediatricians, we counsel families every day on the importance of limiting screen time to protect time for all the other important learning & development kids need each day, but school-aged kids spend the majority of their waking hours at school, and this is the one area where there have been essentially no limits on screen time, especially since the pandemic.  Excess screen time has been linked to higher rates of obesity and metabolic disorders, certain vision problems, ADHD, and mental health disorders like anxiety and depression.  Specifically for learning, there are also studies that show that concentration, deep work/thinking, and reading comprehension are all adversely affected by the use of electronic devices.  Conversely, a lot of the data showing the efficacy of these apps work comes from the tech companies themselves.

The other point that I would like to emphasize is that multiple teachers have thanked me for drawing attention to this issue — educators and pediatricians are aligned.  Teachers are the ones having to deal with the problems excess technology use is creating in the classroom (worsening behavior, distractability, accessing inappropriate content, etc); but in many cases they cannot make the changes they need without it coming from the district level — for example, they are required to use tech apps for certain parts of the curriculum, in some cases with specified time minimums for specific apps.  When something is causing a problem for kids AND for teachers, that tells me that change is really needed.

Article Topic Follows: Education

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Matthew Draxton

Matthew Draxton is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Matthew here.


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