(St. Paul) – In a groundbreaking effort to turn down the glow of screens to young children state wide, a non-partisan bill has been introduced in both the Minnesota House and Senate.
The Screen-Time bill (SF3310 and HF350), authored by Senator Steve Cwodzinski and Representative Kelly Morrison, will get its first hearing in the House Early Childhood Committee on Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at 8 a.m. in Room 120 at the State Capitol.
This first of its kind legislation has two components. One, restrict all personal use devices in publicly funded preschools and Kindergartens to comply with the new guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Two, initiate a public service announcement campaign to educate parents on the negative effects screen time has on the physical and mental health of growing children.
The bill was prompted by the ever-increasing one-to-one device use in Minnesota schools, and the inherent addictive nature of these devices that are designed to keep the user engaged by fast-moving lights and sounds, especially attractive to little ones. “While the devices do a great job keeping kids entertained,” says Rep. Morrison, “the data on effectiveness as a learning device is proving this isn’t the silver bullet educators had hoped, and there are significant negative side effects on mental health and brain development.”
In a bold move, the federal government, through the National Institute of Health (NIH), kicked off a $300 million study on children’s screen use last year. NIH will study 11,000 children ages 9-10 over the next decade. The initial MRI’s were completed on the first 4,500 kids and showed cognitive decline after just two hours a day on screens, including lower scores on thinking and language tests.
Common-Sense Media just reported that kids in that age group are spending five hours a day on screens, NOT INCLUDING SCHOOL AND HOMEWORK. With 70 percent of Minnesota’s 25 largest school districts having one-to-one devices, most kids are far above the threshold to minimize damaging effects.
The data is even more daunting for younger children. The most recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Pediatrics) in 2019 showed that just one hour per day is changing little brains, and not for the better. The kids exposed to screens largely struggled with language and memory functioning, such as not being able to quickly say the name for simple objects like a ball.
Citizen and child advocates Judy Stoffel of Chanhassen and Lisa Venable of Minnetonka initiated the bill and contacted their local legislators to take swift action. Stoffel and Venable are hoping to be part of a solution to what they see as an entire generation at risk. They say waiting another ten years for the NIH study to be completed will be too late and are urging the Minnesota legislature to act now.
“In order to turn around this runaway addiction train, it’s going to take a concerted effort by parents, schools, governments and Silicon Valley,” says Stoffel, who is a CPA, author, screen time expert, and mother of five children. Her book #LookUp, A Parenting Guide to Screen Use, quickly rose to the Amazon best seller list as a resource for parents searching for answers to the biggest parenting issue of our generation.
“The large tech monopolies are capitalizing on our human weaknesses of having short attention spans, being easily distracted, and craving affirmation from others, largely for their bottom line profit,” says Stoffel. “We have to meet this attention economy with enormous vigor to save our growing children from negative effects.”
Venable, a local psychotherapist and early childhood consultant, says the key problem with screens is that they take away from live interaction and creative play, which are crucial for early child development. “Young children who spend a lot of time on screens aren’t using their imaginations or exploring their environments,” says Venable. “They are learning to use screens as a distraction or way to self-soothe, something that later on often leads to addiction and an inability to deal with emotions in a healthy way. Because almost 90 percent of a child’s brain develops in the first five years, we must ensure they are having appropriate developmental experiences.”
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