Is Technology Robbing Our Kids of Their Smarts?

The girls have officially been back in school for a week today, though with Labor Day weekend we’ve been easing back nice and slow and things have been quite manageable so far.

With three girls, two of them in High School, we had a full day of meetings last week with teachers and administration to get all the details on what to expect with this current school year.  It should come as no surprise that one of the topics discussed was the use of technology, both in and out of the classroom.


A few years ago our school announced on back-to-school days that iPads had been purchased for all 5th graders and would be integrated in their program. Another set of iPads would be made available on a rotation basis for all other grades, with privileged time allocated for our 1st graders. Not all parents. myself included, were as exited about this as our head of school.

This year the message for our 9th graders was a little different.  Ou computer lab has been replaced by a computer cart which can be reserved by teachers as needed and rolled into the classroom for a specific project. Outside of that the message was simple: leave your laptops at home! Note taking must be done by hand, in notebooks or looseleaf paper, not on a computer!


I applaud this decision! You see, my soon to be 14 year old is one of two students in her class who does not have a laptop or a cellphone!  We have one desktop computer and one iPad and we all 5 manage to get all of our work done with these two shared tools. I find it allows my girls to get their work done and then unplug!

The main reason given by the teacher who made this announcement is that studies have shown that physically writing things down, as opposed to typing them on a computer keyboard, engages the right neuropathways and properly commits the information to memory.

With technology seeping into every aspect of child development, the damage this causes is becoming more apparent and pediatricians and parents alike are standing up against this widespread use of technology to protect our children’s brain and encourage a healthy development.

The following article, republished with permission from pediatrician Cris Cowan shares 10 reasons why we should think twice about technology in the classroom.

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Ten Reasons NOT to use Technology for learning in grade school.

by Cris Rowan

Refuse to Use is a world-wide Movement by responsible and futuristic thinking parents and teachers to ban all school-based technology for children under 12 years of age, and bring back tried and true methods of teaching. The 0-12 years are formative for brain and body development, and are a fragile time when deprivation and damage can be permanent.

Four critical factors for enhancing child development, behaviour, and learning are movement, touch, connection, and nature. Technology stops children from engagement in these critical factors. Technology is sedentary, isolating, overstimulating, and results in child neglect, causing delays in child development, problematic and difficult to manage behaviours, as well as limited attention and learning ability. Teachers teach, not technology. Join the Refuse to Use Movement by reading “Ten reasons to NOT use technology in schools for children under the age of 12 years”, and signing the petition  to show your support.

They don’t need it. In fact, education technology appears to be doing more harm than good in the areas of literacy and overall academic performance. If education technology is so great, why has Canada dropped out the top 10 to 13th, and the US is ranked 27th on the PISA, a global test for math, science, and reading (PISA 2013)? Half of grade eight students do not demonstrate job entry literacy (National Center for Education Statistics 2010). Use it or you lose it rings true: today’s fast paced technology doesn’t appear to require frontal lobe activity, causing atrophy in the very area of the brain that should be growing (Dunckley V, 2014). This means, according to the Learning Paradox, the more you use this technology the less likely you are to learn. Today’s students are quite possibly only as smart as their device.

Not research evidenced. While education technology holds promise for the future, too much too soon has been shown to have perilous consequences. While every parent would like their child to grow up with the knowledge and skills needed to be successful as an adult, pushing apps around a screen at one year of age is likely to result in exactly the opposite. The face of technology will change significantly over the next 5 to 10 years. Teaching tech to toddlers now is senseless and vastly detrimental to their developing brain and body.

It’s not proven to be safe. Children are being forced by schools to absorb potentially harmful radiation without choice or parental consent. In 2011, the World Health Organization classified radiation emitted from technology devices, including laptops, cell phones, tablets, wifi, routers, to be a Class 2B carcinogen (WHO 2011). Health Canada followed with warnings to parents to use “precautionary measures” regarding technology use, and to not allow children under 12 to carry cell phones in their pockets. In 2013, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) requested the Federal Trade Commission to reinvestigate radiation effects on children, citing thinner skulls, more aqueous brain tissue, and rapidly dividing cells (AAP 2013).

Recent research suggests that the electromagnetic (EMF) and radio frequency (RF) radiation emissions from cell phones and laptops are causing reduction in sperm motility and sperm DNA fragmentation (Avendano 2012) as well as acoustic neuromas (Hardell 2013). Without long term data demonstrating safety, continuing to expose children to devices categorized as possible carcinogens seems beyond all common sense or reason, and is an infringement of individual right and freedom from harm. Would schools continue in this manner, if they were to be held personally responsible for their actions? School wifi waiver forms can be found at Citizens for Safe Technology  website.

Pediatrician guidelines actively ignored. Both the AAP and the Canadian Paediatric Society released policy stating the following limits: no technology exposure for 0-2 years, 1 hour/day for 3-5 years, and 2 hours/day for 6-18 years, yet the average child uses 4 to 5 times that amount of entertainment technology before they even get to school (AAP 2014). Additional school-based education technology usage is estimated to average 2-3 hours per day.

How can this happen? Teachers, school boards, parent advisory committees…right on up to the highest levels of education government have not only sanctioned escalating usage, but are encouraging it. To actively ignore policy put in place by two of the world’s largest paediatric organizations, who represent all the paediatricians in North America, is not only unethical and unprofessional but could, in the near future, be considered an indictable offence.

Sedentary bodies can’t learn. Research abounds that exercise enhances attention and learning (Ratey J 2008), yet schools continue to restrict movement through recess reduction and boring playgrounds. At the same time provision of sedentary, expensive, and useless technology explodes. As sedentary lifestyles become the norm, developmental delay and obesity escalate, right along with inability to pay attention and learn.

Highly anxious children can’t learn. Anxiety is the fastest growing child mental illness. Technology isolates children from not only the attentions of parent and teacher, but also from potential cooperative learning with other students. Immersion in a virtual world that is fast paced, immediate, “me” focused, reward-based, and totally in the student’s control, causes immense difficulties transitioning back into the real world. Waiting, taking turns, and socializing with other children are daunting and difficult for the tech immersed child. Poor self-regulation, tantrums, impulsivity, aggression, and explosive violence in North American children are now the norm. Selfie was the 2013 word of the year.

Impossible to manage and monitor. A Los Angeles school had to recall all its iPads from students as it couldn’t keep them from accessing porn, video games, Facebooking and texting. Teachers and parents like to console themselves by thinking children are doing their homework. Well…they aren’t; 95 percent of time children spend on tech devices is for mindless entertainment purposes, not education.

Highly addictive. A 2009 study indicated 1 out of 11 children aged 8 to18 years are addicted to technology (Gentile D 2009). Never in the history of humankind have there been child addictions. Though treatment is difficult and expensive, in the near future this will be the job of every health and education professional — addressing student tech addictions. Schools wouldn’t give children cocaine or crack, yet they readily hand out an equally damaging and addictive device to students on a daily basis. Starting now to restrict usage in school settings would send a message to students and parents that it is imperative to reduce the use of technology, before it’s too late.

Displaces the basics. Remember the 3 R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic? Teaching printing is passé, and reading and math instruction are increasingly relegated to two-dimensional screens. Yet whenever a child is tested prior to age 12 years, on any subject, they’re expected to be proficient with printing. When children learn to print, they create a visual memory for letter recognition in reading. When they practice printing over and over, their printing speeds get fast, allowing them to free up their brains for spelling, sentence production, and math.

Not teaching children to print ensures illiteracy and academic failure. If adults were told to print all day every day in a foreign language, but not given proper instruction or teaching, how long would they continue this insane task? Students who do not demonstrate subconscious motor planning for letters and numbers by grade three, are very slow printers, hate school, and resist all subjects requiring printing output.

Not sustainable. The ways in which parents and teachers are raising and educating children with technology are not sustainable. It’s time to bring the tech train back to the station and rethink who, what, when, where, why and how parameters to safely and effectively use technology with children. Join the Refuse to Use Movement petition below to stop use of school-based technology with children under the age of 12 years until such time as research indicates safety and efficacy.

* Referenced research can be located on Zone’in Fact Sheet  now available in English and Spanish versions.

About Cris Rowan:


Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, speaker and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”. Cris can be reached at This article was orginally published on her website, Zone’in , and is reproduced here with permission.

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How do YOU feel about technology in the classroom?  Does your child have a personal device?  How do you monitor the time spent on a laptop or tablet?

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  1. I think technology is ok when used in moderation and as long as a student knows how to learn without them.

  2. I think, in moderation, technology is very useful even in elementary school. Adults need to be more mindful of limits so kids don’t get addicted or become dependent.

  3. Wow! I keep hearing about how we are supposed to be bringing technology into our schools, but this gives me some serious pause. I had never considered the negative side effects other than attention issues.

    • As you know Crystal, with all things there are pros and cons and it’s important to keep both in mind. technology offers so many wonderful tools that can really enhance learning but knowing where to draw the line is imperative if we want to protect our children and their overall health and development.

  4. I politely disagree because it has been technology that has helped our son learn so much at his new school. It’s still fun, and it’s used after traditional teaching and physical activities, but it’s helped him greatly.

    • Thank you Mandi for “politely disagreeing”. I love it! I completely agree with you that technology can be beneficial and has it’s place, but as you say it needs to supplement traditional learning tools. The real dangers come when most if not all teaching is achieved through the use of technology.

  5. I think in some instances where there is no limiting or supervision this could be true. In other cases, like with my dyslexic 12 year old, technology can go a long way towards helping to boost confidence.

    • You make a really important point Kathleen about how technology can be a tremendous asset for children who have a learning or other disability. This is an area where technology can offer solutions that are interactive and work on a completely different level, empowering kids as they acquire skills they would otherwise be struggling with. But yes, parental and teacher supervision is essential. No matter what kids MUST unplug,move and interact with others.

  6. I think anything in excess isn’t a good thing and that most definitely includes technology. I love that the kids have gone back to writing notes!

  7. What I don’t like about this mass implementation of technology in the classroom is that it’s impossible for me to see what they are teaching. They don’t come home with physical homework so I can see it, see where they are struggling. It’s just a grade after the fact.

    • That’s a really good point Kimberly and one I completely agree with. I feel out of the loop much too often. With my teens, homework is posted online and I can technically sign on and see what they have to do. They are pretty much independent learners at this point so the reality is I rarely log on so I am pretty much in the dark unless they share or ask for help. My little one has work to do in her notebooks and daily reading in both French and English so I do stay up to date with what she is doing and I love that!

  8. You make a lot of good points – I kind of wish I would of waited to allow my kids all their exposure to technology. Now its a bit of an obsession and its a HUGE fight to get them off the computers..and when my 12 yr old says “well Mom I have to do some homework online” when I am trying to in force a tech free day/week/weekend, makes it tough!

    • There is no denying that this generation is a generation of digital natives Krissy and we can’t and shouldn’t really, keep technology out of their world completely. But I do believe that too much is too much and that by bringing technology in such a HUGE way into EVERYTHING that our kids do is robbing them of other invaluable learning opportunities and we won’t necessarily see this until it’s too late.

  9. I’m torn because I love the technology and my had writing is like playing a guessing game. Our schools down here don’t put emphasis on handwriting skills like the last state we lived in. For my daughter it’s kind of nice.

    • Technology offers a lot of wonderful tools and simplifies certain aspects of learning Megan, but we should not give it a more important place than it deserves. I see a lot of behavioral issues when kids are constantly plugged in and believe they need to give their eyes and minds a break and intergrated technology into a well rounded education that is founded on traditional skills.

  10. Wow you do make some good points. I agree… but I also think technology can be good. :sigh: I think it all goes with the too much in excess is bad for you 😉

    • Balance is so important with technology as with other things. It does offer some phenomenal tools and we should take advantage of those. But we MUST maintain that balance. I am convinced of that dread learning of dire consequences of too much exposure too soon, years down the line.

  11. Very very valid points! Sometimes I wish we didn’t have it but we live in such a small community that 3 of my daughters classes don’t have teachers so they have to take online college classes to compensate for the lack of a teacher. Ultimately the education system really does need to back off computers a little more and stop integrating them into daily uses.

    • In your daughters’ case Chelle, it sounds like technology is allowing them to have access to important learning tools they would otherwise not have and that is one of the beautiful things about technology. It can create bridges or bring the world a little or a lot closer. But yes, moderation is key and if your daughters depend on it for learning it’s important to minimize it in other areas of their lives.

  12. I am all for technology in the classroom. It enables children like my son to communicate with others whereas they might not otherwise be able.

    • I would love to know more specifically how that is working with your son Val. Technology does have it’s place and has provided amazing learning and growth opportunities for a number of children, especially children with special needs, or certain learning disabilities, for whom technology can offer amazing custom tools. But I still feel we have to be extremely cautious about overuse.

  13. I am with you Valerie. Everything in moderation. Using a computer is great for learning but unplugging is equally as important as we can all get consumed by technology. There has to be a cost, especially for kids, that we are as yet unaware.

  14. I have felt a lot like this from the beginning…when calculators started to be required or when text books were offered as ebooks. Funny that post…my not very serious post…this past week deals with the topic of smart and technology too. Glad to see some schools getting retroactive!!

  15. I don’t have children in that age group anymore so haven’t really kept up to date. I do know that the harmful radiation effect is quite often on the news so I can’t understand why school boards and parents would allow children to be harmed this way, One year I was an education assistant at a school in grade one and it appalled me that children were told to get out their abacus because they were starting arithmetic. That’s the age the children are wide open to learning, memorizing and retaining – having them use a counter just seemed wrong. I guess I have the same view when it comes to technology. It’s not needed or desirable.

  16. I’m a little surprised to see this. I have a 10-year-old in fifth grade and I feel that he should be learning to use the tools he will be using in high school, college and the rest of his life. It’s the equivalent of learning to type 30 years ago. Does it really matter if we take notes on a pad, an iPad or even a smart phone. I personally have a preference for hand written notes but I think that’s just my age showing,

  17. I believe that its good to use technology but when children can learn how it is beneficial.
    My daughter is 3 years old and she has IPad and she have learned a lot from it , I downloaded all learning games for her and when she started talking she started singing A,B,C till Z that was something really amazing for us.
    But as she is growing then I felt many changes and now I have kept her away from her Ipad from last 4 months.
    I just give her 15 minutes or so to watch Cartoons on my Laptop.
    Now whats the reason? When she started frowning and came to know about I pad she started watching cartoons still I managed learning type of… but then she was fed up of them as started watching any sort she like. Then she started copying them , no matter it was an animal or human..she tried to get everything from market that cartoons possess. Then she was addicted to that ,I was feeling that she will loose her sight.
    Then I took Ipad. So I believe technology will be helpful when you teach your child first , how , when and where to use.

  18. Wow. You are one of the few moms who believe in old school learning. Bravo! Count me in your tribe. My children grew up with little kid crayons and big fat pencils in their hands, learning to count using popsicle sticks, learning their abcs with wooden blocks. They loved their story books with bright colors too. My children did not at all think they were deprived when they did not have their own iPad or laptop computer. They had the whole backyard, their friends, and the neighborhood to learn and explore things on their own. Nothing beats that. My eldest is now an economist, and my two youngest boys are in college. I gave them cellphones when they were in high school. Now they have their own laptops which they use for thesis research. And yes, they know how to hold pens and pencils in their hands. Thank you for sharing this. Love your post.

  19. I have mixed emotions about this. My kids love electronics and I’m constantly trying to get them to unplug at home so I don’t love when they come home and tell me about their favorite ipad app. I think as long as it isn’t being overused in the schools.

  20. I’m going to agree to disagree on this one. My father is a school psychologist and they have used computers for YEARS in their office to teach kids and help them learn – with incredible results.

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