New group of parents, pediatricians urge closer monitoring of kid’s screen use
A new grassroots organization of parents and pediatricians has formed in an effort to get the Santa Barbara community more plugged in on potentially dangerous ramifications of excessive screen use among children.
TechWise SB is flashing a 404 error message, arguing excessive screen time and access to harmful content can cause a bevy of mental health, insomnia, obesity and various other issues if gone unchecked.
The group, in a recent letter to Santa Barbara Unified School District officials, asked the district to remove access to YouTube on elementary school campuses, keep younger students’ iPads in the classroom instead of allowing them to be taken home, and provide parents more training and information on how to monitor their child’s use of iPads and similar devices.
TechWise SB is not “anti-tech,” stressed Dr. Kristen Hughes, a pediatrician and parent of two children in the SBUSD.
“This is all in an effort to promote safe and healthy use of technology in student education,” Dr. Hughes told the News-Press. “We’re not anti-tech in schools. We’re not anti-bridging the tech divide. We are pro-safe and healthy tech use for all students.”
Dr. Hughes, who works with patients among the lowest socioeconomic status through her role with the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, recalled a young girl who she saw transform from a vibrant, active individual to someone who was tired and obese. Dr. Hughes said she asked the girl’s mother what had happened, and the mom immediately pointed to a school-issued tablet.
“The excessive screen time is displacing the other important activities young children need to be engaged in, things like physical activity and socialization, family time, schoolwork and even sleep,” Dr. Hughes said.
The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry warned children between the ages of 8-12 in the U.S. spent an average of 4-6 hours per day watching or using screens. For teenagers, that amount was even higher at about 9 hours. And that was in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools and businesses and resulted in a reliance on technology previously unneeded.
SBUSD provides iPads to students in an effort to maintain “equitable access to digital learning materials,” the district said on its website. The iPads are managed by the school district with access to certain applications and messaging features disabled.
Students and parents are given Acceptable Use Policy forms, which set responsibilities for utilizing the iPads, from agreeing not to upload information about other people to consenting to only communicate with people the child knows, among many other things.
Both students and parents must sign the agreement, with the parent acknowledging he or she has their child’s account information and passwords and understands they are encouraged to monitor online activity.
“We know that there are concerned parents, and we are committed to working with them on this topic,” a district spokesperson said.
The reliance on technology became prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic across the U.S. as schools closed to keep everyone safe. And it’s ignited a broader conversation of technology equity — from access to reliable internet and/or equipment to monitoring online activity.
In its letter to SBUSD, TechWise SB said the current use of iPads among school children “exacerbates the inequities among our student population and families.” Specifically, the letter said “stressed and under-resourced families” might not be able to properly monitor children’s screen time.
Dr. Hughes said there is a challenge among working families who might not have a trusted adult at home when a child returns from school who can grab a tablet and ensure it’s not used to access dangerous or adult content or become a problem in other ways.
“While district-created filters may block most explicit content, young children who watch YouTube are still likely to stumble across content that is not age-appropriate,” the TechWise SB letter, dated April 18, said. “Indeed, many parents report significant challenges related to their child using the tablet excessively and being exposed to inappropriate content.”
In an email to the News-Press, Dr. Karinne Van Groningen, the American Academy of Pediatrics California Chapter 2 legislative and policy analyst, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic posed significant challenges for children and adolescents, and media was used as an invaluable tool to connect children to education and peers. We live in a media-saturated world, and media utilization should be implemented thoughtfully, with the child’s age in mind.”
Melissa Quigley, through her work as an SBUSD psychologist, said she has seen increased anxiety and depression among children — and at a younger and younger age. The parent of a rising kindergartener, Ms. Quigley said she hopes to see a community movement and collaboration to protect students’ physical and mental health.
“The group and the movement is focused on bringing awareness to tech use in the sense of creating healthier tech use and very intentional decisions around tech use,” Ms. Quigley told the News-Press. “We are recognizing that we live in a very technological world — technology is integrated everywhere, and our concerns are about protecting our kids, keeping them safe and happy and healthy within this technology world.”
Members of TechWise SB, who gathered Sunday at Brass Bear Brewing & Bistro in Santa Barbara, plan to speak before the SBUSD board meeting when it convenes at 5:30 tonight.
TechWise SB has pointed to a model from Everyschool, a nonprofit that bills itself as a group advocating for “healthy, research-based education technology” in school districts, called the EdTech Triangle. The model gives suggested screen time based on grade levels and encourages more focus to be placed on a scale of transformative, supportive, restrictive and disruptive, in that order.
“I am a parent, and I’m very passionate about this,” Ms. Quigley said. “Right now, I have full control over what my children are exposed to and how they access or don’t access screens. And I know once they go to school, I no longer have full control over that and the ability to have a say in it as a parent.”