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Report: Technology Overuse Harmful to Children

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Monday, March 13, 2017   

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – There's a push in Maryland to set up safety guidelines relating to WiFi in schools and for daily use of computers, tablets and other technology.

Here’s the question: Do the devices pose a health risk?

Lawmakers are set to consider bills (HB 866, SB 1089) that would require the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to establish guidelines on how much these devices are used in classrooms.

Separately, the Maryland State Advisory Council has put out a report calling for a reduction in the use of WiFi in schools.

Megan Latshaw, a researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School, led the work group looking at the impact of WiFi exposure. She says radiation is a real threat to children, and urges caution, noting decades ago asbestos was considered a great flame retardant.

"Hopefully we're being a little more forward thinking here and we won't look back and say, 'Oh, my gosh, we wish we hadn't exposed all those children to all that radiation so long ago,’” she states.

The Senate is expected this week to hear the legislation to establish guidelines about digital devices in school. Overuse has been associated with headaches, blurred vision, retinal damage, myopia, sleeplessness, obesity, anxiety and addiction.

Theodora Scarato, director of public affairs and educational resources with the Environmental Health Trust, started doing research on WiFi exposure several years ago.

"We didn't really think about what will this mean for a developing child?” she relates. “And we haven't looked into guidelines on how to use devices in the safest way possible, especially for kindergartners who are being handed these in classes and they have them on their laps."

Latshaw recommends putting tablets on a desk to create a barrier between the child's body and the WiFi antenna, moving the router as far away from children as possible and having a switch that allows a teacher to turn it off when it's not being used in order to reduce emissions.

"Simple steps like that that wouldn't necessarily involve rewiring a school, although we did recommend that if a school is thinking about installing WiFi that they actually look into just using wired Internet access instead," she states.





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