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Chicken Little

Chicken Little
Jenna Allen, Plato Campus Assistant Principal

The other day, I chided my esteemed colleague and dear friend, Mr. Jeremy Tullius, that he had stolen my idea for my next article in this newsletter.  His recent article, “Outsmarting Smartphones: Reflections for Liberty Families”, touched on many of the points I had hoped to make regarding the disturbing impacts of smartphones and social media on students: poor mental health, lack of responsibility, social impairment, and other general dangers. He called it a short admonition. I have a short admonition of my own, Mr. Tullius, something not oft said of you: You may have been too gentle in your approach. 

My heart is to alert, maybe even alarm, parents to the significant and increasingly impactful dangers of all manners of screen time for our most vulnerable population: our elementary-school students.
 
Common Sense Media research reports 43% of students ages 8–12 have their own smartphone.  This number does not account for the children who are given regular, even excessive, access to screens before age eight. A recent study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics concluded “early-life digital media exposure was associated with atypical sensory processing outcomes in multiple domains.”  These sensory profiles, commonly referred to as “sensory-processing disorders,” can be profoundly impactful on their early educational experiences.
 
Another study titled “Types of On-Screen Content and Mental Health in Kindergarten Children” examined the associations between screen exposure to a variety of content types and mental health in children aged 3–6 years.  If the title of the study and the population necessitating such a study isn’t alarming enough, their conclusions should be. They concluded that total screen time and various forms of content (this means even semi-educational content) contributed to mental health problems in this age group. The alarm bells should be sounding. We are talking about the youngest and most impressionable of our students being allowed to consume content—or perhaps are even being handed a device—that is literally sucking their souls. 
 
In his book Glow Kids, author Dr. Nicholas Kadaras examines how technology impacts children’s brains. The research shows a link between moderate to excessive screen time and serious issues like ADHD, anxiety, aggression, and even psychosis. Brain scans show a clear, direct correlation between the dopaminergic nature of screens and the “addiction center” of their brains, likening the addictiveness to that of cocaine or other illicit drugs. I highly recommend this book to you as an excellent resource for guiding your children in our digital age. 
 
In Dr. Kadaras’s later book, Digital Madness, he answers the question of why young people’s mental health is deteriorating as we become a more technologically advanced society:  “Our immersion in toxic social media has created polarizing extremes of emotion and addictive dependency, while also acting as a toxic “social contagion”, spreading a variety of psychiatric disorders.”   He also delves into the monetization and data mining that comes with this industry—an industry that exists to make money and has no interest in protecting our children. The alarm bells should be deafening at this point.
 
As educators, we have seen an increase in language in older elementary students around self-harm and suicide, normalized by exposure to this type of expression on platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube. Interactions with these students also reveals an alarming use of these platforms in inappropriate and damaging ways. They simply lack the maturity and wisdom to navigate these complex yet ultra-accessible and socially-acceptable forms of communicating.
 
A diminished lack of attention and focus across all grade levels is often a topic of serious conversation among teaching teams and our Academic Support Team: how do we best support students who struggle to attend to a 15 or 20 minute lesson?  How do we help them develop the tenacity to persevere in a difficult or non-preferred task? Let me be clear, we are seeing these impacts regularly—this is not a false alarm of the sky falling—and all signs point to a significant impact on our elementary students. It is (and should be) alarming.
 
If this has caused you to feel anxious, then my sentiments have been well placed. But this trepidation must translate to actively making different choices for the good of our children. One last article titled “Effects of Excessive Screen Time on Child Development: An Updated Review and Strategies for Management” may give us some insight on how we can navigate this topic: “We can reduce the possible negative impacts of excessive screen time and promote children’s healthy development and well-being by increasing knowledge and encouraging alternative activities that stimulate development.”
 
I have presented to you the very real and present dangers facing our students as a clarion call to act. I hope you find in this humble (if not short) admonition multiple resources to build your knowledge as a parent.  It is a privilege to work with instructors and support staff who strive, every day, to stimulate our student’s development of character and knowledge along their journey.  It is also our deepest belief that this is only done in partnership with Liberty parents. As such, I appeal to you to put down your phone or computer after reading this, and pick up a book to read with your child.  Perhaps, together, we can prevent the sky from falling.