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Linking Corporations and Communities Initiative

Creating Sustainable Futures for Children

Designed for Technology and Pharmaceutical Corporations

I. Executive Summary

The past decade has witnessed an epic explosion in child technology use, with child technology addictions on the rise. Critical milestones for child motor and sensory development are not being met, resulting in inadequate foundation skills required for school entry. Simultaneous child physical, psychological and behavior disorders are becoming more apparent, often accompanied by the prescription of psychotropic medication. Research documented impact of these disorders on child health and academic performance indicates the need for immediate child health initiatives.

An integral component to ensure implementation and success of these child health initiatives is a partnering of health and education sectors with corporations. Companies that would benefit from this partnership would be those involved in technology production e.g. television, computers, internet, videogames, iPods, cell phones. As physical, psychological and behavior disorders resulting from technology addictions are often medicated, pharmaceutical corporations would also benefit from partnering with health and education sectors committed to enhancing child health.

This partnership between corporations and health and education sectors has been termed the Linking Corporations and Communities Initiative, designed to create sustainable futures for children. The Linking Corporations and Communities Initiative will require corporate assistance in planning, implementing and funding child health initiatives. Contributions by corporations could be applied to implementation of technology reduction initiatives such as the Creating Sustainable Futures Program, or through funding of school or community programs that promote child health and wellness (nature outings, safe parks). The purpose of the Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative is to counteract the negative effects of technology on child physical, psychological and behavioral health and academic performance, through creating rewarding and tax beneficial partnerships with corporations.

II. Problem Statement

Throughout most of human history child engagement in rough and tumble outdoor play and imaginary games resulted in the achievement of adequate sensory, motor and attachment development required for attention and learning. Much of this active play has been replaced by technology use. Today’s average household media environment includes three TV’s, three DVD players, two videogame consoles, three iPods, two cell phones and one computer. Children now average 8.0 hours per day TV, internet and videogame use, with over 65% of children using TV’s in their bedrooms. ‘Baby TV’ now occupies 2.2 hours per day for the 0-2 year old population, and 4.5 hours per day for 3-5 year olds and is causally linked to developmental delays. This situation has prompted France to ban its broadcasters from airing TV shows aimed at children under three years of age. Canadian children were recently granted a “D” grade for inactivity in 2008 by Active Healthy Kids Canada, citing TV and videogames as the primary cause. TV and videogame use accounts for 60% of childhood obesity, and is now considered a North American ‘epidemic’. Although rigorous research is still lacking, preliminary studies indicate increases in attention difficulty, poor academic achievement, aggression and sleep impairment which may be attributable to childhood technology overuse.

Prevalence statistics regarding developmental disabilities in young children are a challenge for researchers due to early detection difficulties. Only 55-65% of developmental disabilities are detected prior to school age entry. 6% of US children have speech and language impairment, 8% a learning disability, 7% ADHD and 0.5% Autism with 13.2% accessing special education assistance. A 2006 Canadian study reported one in six children have a developmental disability, with Autism prevalence now 1 in 160 in Canada. Data from the 1988 National Health Interview Survey reported 17% of US children had a developmental disability, resulting in 1.5 times more physician visits, 3.5 times more hospital days, twice the number of lost school days and a 2.5 fold increase in the likelihood of repeating a school grade compared to a non-developmentally disabled child. A 2006 US study reported 32% of children admitted to inpatient pediatric ward demonstrated a developmental disability. In 1996, 10% of Canadian children ages 7-13 years were obese, with estimated economic costs of $1.8 billion. In 2004, just eight years later, this number is 50% higher with a prevalence of obesity at fully 15% of the Canadian child population.

Recent studies also document a rise in psychological disorders in children reporting increasing incidence of bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. Associated behaviors may be confusing for parents, teachers and physicians, and could be easily misunderstood, possibly resulting in psychiatric diagnosis and prescription of psychotropic medication. Between 1991 and 1995, prescriptions for psychotropic medications in the 2 – 4 year old toddler population, as well as in children and youth tripled. 80% of this medication was prescribed by family physicians and pediatricians. 28-30% of children receiving psychotropic medication are on multiple medications. Limited high quality evidence guiding appropriate dosing and inexperience in documentation of long term effects of these prescriptions in children may mean that these children undergo unquantified risks.

III. Rationale

In primitive times, human beings engaged in physical labor, and sensory stimulation was natural and simple. Rapid advances in technology and transportation have resulted in a physically sedentary society with high frequency, duration and intensity of sensory stimuli. These environmental changes are happening faster than human being’s ability to adapt and evolve. Children who immerse themselves in virtual reality may exhibit signs of sensory deprivation, as they become disconnected from the world of physical play and meaningful interactions. Canadian parents spend an average 3.5 minutes per week participating in meaningful conversation with their children. Overuse of TV and videogames may result in children lacking essential connection with themselves, others and nature. Three critical factors for healthy physical and psychological child development are movement, touch and connection to other humans. Developing children require 3-4 hours per day of active rough and tumble play to achieve adequate stimulation to the vestibular, proprioceptive and tactile sensory systems. This type of sensory input ensures normal development of posture, bilateral coordination and optimal arousal states. Infants with low tone, toddlers failing to reach motor milestones, and children who are unable to pay attention or achieve basic foundation skills for literacy, are frequent visitors to pediatric physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language clinics. The use of safety restraint devices such as infant bucket seats and toddler carrying packs and strollers, have further limited movement, touch and connection, as have TV and videogames. Many of today’s parents perceive outdoor play is ‘unsafe’, limiting essential developmental components usually attained in outdoor rough and tumble play. Dr. Ashley Montagu reports that when children lack touch and human connection, they may respond by ‘turning in’ (anxiety, depression) or ‘turning out’ (aggression) (50). These complex behaviors may be confusing for parents, teachers and physicians, possibly leading psychiatric diagnosis and subsequent prescription of psychotropic medication.

In 2001 the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement recommending that children less than two years of age should not watch any TV or videogames. They further recommended that children older than two should restrict usage to one hour per day if they have any physical, mental or social problems, and two hours per day maximum if they don’t. Dr. Dimitri Christakis found that each hour of TV watched daily between the ages of 0 and 7 years equated to a 10% chance of attention problems by age seven years. Further evidence suggests some parents may have technology addictions. Adult Internet Addiction has been proposed for inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition. This fact supports possible implementation of school based technology reduction programs. A randomized controlled trial of a 6-month classroom curriculum to reduce TV and videogame use resulted in statistically significant relative decreases in obesity. While no one can argue the benefits of advanced technology in today’s world, connection to these devices may have resulted in a disconnection from what society should value most, children. Rather than hugging, playing, rough housing, and conversing with children, parents are increasingly resorting to providing their children with more videogames, TV’s in the car, iPods, and cell phone devices, creating a deep and widening chasm between parent and child.

IV. Goals

The Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative is designed to provide planning, implementation and funding assistance for initiatives to improve child physical, psychological and behavioral health, with subsequent improvements in academic performance. The Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative will be the major funding source for the Creating Sustainable Futures Program, a school-based technology reduction program, as well as a funding source for adjunct programs e.g. free admission to recreation centers, creation of safe parks, nature outings.

Short term measurable goals will be reduction in use of non-school related technology e.g. TV, videogames and internet. Long term goals will be improvement in children’s physical, psychological and behavioral health with subsequent impact on academic performance. Measurement of long term goals will be evidenced by reduction in incidence of child diagnosis and medication, and improved academic scores (see Outcome Measures – Section VI).

V. Proposed Solution

The Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative will raise awareness regarding the negative effects of technology addictions, and will also provide intervention programs for elementary aged children in a school and community-based settings. The school and community-based Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative, proposed by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist and CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc., brings together a unique team of “players” in the child health, education and technology fields. Through corporate assistance with planning, implementing and funding of child health and education initiatives, the Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative will serve to reduce the impact of technology and child physical, psychological and behavioral health and academic performance. The Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative will also reduce the incidence of child diagnosis and medication, a pervasive and costly epidemic. The Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative provides a unique opportunity for technology and pharmaceutical corporations to enhance their public image, and become leaders on the child health initiative forefront, by fostering a balance between technology and a healthy lifestyle for children.

As TV and videogame addictions are largely undetected by health and education professionals, and impact significantly on the physical, mental and behavioral health of children, education regarding child technology addictions is the first step toward addressing these needs. Provision of effective tools and techniques through yearly school-based technology reduction programs, will ensure long term technology reduction. This education, tools and techniques can best be implemented through the Creating Sustainable Futures Program. Possible examples of adjunct programs for corporate funding are school nature outings, weekend camping trips, free child admission to community recreation centers, free bus passes for children, building of safe parks, and creation of Zone’in gyms in northern communities where weather prohibits outdoor play.

The Linking Corporations and Communities Initiative will commence following a pilot Creating Sustainable Futures Program planned for 2009. Following program revisions, Creating Sustainable Futures District Advisory Committees will be formed, with representatives from health and education sectors, as well as participating technology and pharmaceutical corporations. Companies who wish to become involved in the Linking Corporations to Communities Initiative are directed to contact Cris Rowan, CEO Zone’in Programs Inc. (contact information Section X).

VI. Outcome Measures

The Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative is designed to improve children’s physical, psychological and behavioral health through reduction in use of technology, and participation in alternate activities and exploration of nature. Outcomes measure assessments will be performed on a yearly basis.

  • Technology reduction – pre and post measurements will be obtained regarding non-school related technology usage for TV, videogames, hand-held gaming devices, internet, iPods, and cell phones (and any new technology released prior to this initiative).
  • Improvements in physical health - pre and post incidence statistics will be obtained from health government regarding incidence of physician visits by children, and from both health and education governments regarding diagnosis of physical disorders related to sedentary lifestyle e.g. obesity, diabetes, coordination disorders.
  • Improvements in psychological health – pre and post incidence statistics will be obtained from both health and education governments regarding diagnosis of psychological disorders e.g. depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, sleep impairments and subsequent prescription of psychotropic medication.
  • Improvements in behavioral health – pre and post incidence statistics will be obtained from both health and education governments regarding diagnosis of behavioral disorders e.g. ADHD, autism.

VII. Program Evaluation

The Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative will be piloted in a single school district per province or state for a one year period, in conjunction with the Creating Sustainable Futures Program. Following collation of evaluation data, possible revisions may be required in intervention components. Province or state wide administration of the Linking Corporation and Communities Initiative and the Creating Sustainable Futures Program subsequent to program revisions will be at the discretion of the District Creating Sustainable Futures Program Advisory Committee.

VIII. Final Statement

In conclusion, evidence suggests that North American parents allow young children extended periods of technology use. Further evidence suggests that technology overuse is causally linked to increased incidence of child physical, mental and behavioral disorders, as well as poor academic performance and declining literacy. Parents, teachers and therapists are increasingly presenting children to physicians for assessment of complex physical, mental and behavior disorders that may be linked to the physical inactivity and sensory hypostimulation inherent in this use of technology, often resulting in psychotropic medication prescription.

Children are our future. There is no sustainable future in virtual reality.

IX. Author Biography

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist and sensory specialist with expertise in the impact of technology on child development. Having worked in a school setting for over a decade, Cris is committed to easing the job of learning for children. Cris is a well-known speaker and author to teachers, parents and therapists throughout North America on topics of sensory integration, learning, attention, fine motor skills and the impact of TV and videogames on children’s neurological development. Cris has a BSc’s both in Occupational Therapy and in Biology, is a SIPT certified sensory specialist, and has Approved Provider status by both the American and Canadian Occupational Therapy Associations, and Autism Community Training. As CEO of Zone’in Program Inc., Cris has provided over 200 keynotes and workshops, publishes the monthly Zone’in Development Series Newsletter, created the Zone’in, Move’in and Unplug’in educational programs for schools and homes, and started Zone’in Training Programs for registered occupational therapists. Cris has written numerous articles for media and international journals, and has been interviewed on national public radio and TV. Cris is author of the Unplug – Don’t Drug policy initiative, the Creating Sustainable Futures Program and the Linking Corporations and Community initiative. Cris is currently writing her book Disconnect to Reconnect – Counteracting the Effects of Technology to Improve Child Performance at School and Home.

X. Contact Information

Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi, SIPT, Approved Provider for AOTA
CEO Zone’in Programs Inc
6840 Seaview Rd.
Sechelt, BC V0N3A4
604-885-0986 p, 604-885-0389 f, 604-740-2264 c
crowan@zonein.ca
www.zonein.ca