Almost every child expert over the last decade has warned about the dangers of too much online: in young kids screen times' impact on brain development, fine and critical motor skills; and for everyone its linkage to obesity, anhedonia (The inability to experience fun, as seen in certain mood disorders.) and short attention spans. A growing kids podcast industry has sprouted trying to offer parents screen-free alternatives, and one of the most popular topics of conversation in parenting groups is weaning kids off those tiny blue screens.
Toxic stress is repeated and persistent activation of the body’s fight-or-flight response. Researchers in China have already demonstrated children there were affected by it during the initial stages of fighting the pandemic. Now our children face the same risks.
And the days of warning about screen time are long gone.
Over the summer, the AAP released its recommendations for the coming school year and unequivocally pushed for “[the] goal of having students physically present in school.” Even so, despite the AAP's lengthy recommendations and data on the importance of reopening schools and details regarding how to do so safely, there wasn’t a single mention of how detrimental all-day online learning would be for children, especially those in a K-5 setting.
The detriments of distancing learning are astonishing.
Social media posts show pictures of children curled in a ball facing away from the desk after several hours, others describe screaming, sobbing and behavioral outburst after children as young as five are left feeling fried after being expected to stay engaged six hours a day online.
What benefit is there to keeping kids tied to these screens all day, every day? How much learning is even happening?
And then we have the link between online or e-learning with the inevitable-- social media. These habitual behaviors can distract students from their academic work, adversely affect their academic performance, social interactions, and sleep duration, and lead to a sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity, which in turn can render them vulnerable to non-communicable diseases and mental health problems.
Results from a 2022 study on university students showed that 97% of the students used social media applications. Only 1% of them used social media for academic purposes. Whereas 35% of them used these platforms to chat with others, 43% of them browsed these sites to pass time. Moreover, 57% of them were addicted to social media.
Additionally, 52% of them reported that social media use had affected their learning activities, 66% of them felt more drawn toward social media than toward academic activities, and 74% of them spent their free time on social media platforms. The most popular applications (i.e., based on usage) were Snapchat (45%), Instagram (22%), Twitter (18%), and WhatsApp (7%). Further, 46% and 39% of them reported going to bed between 11 pm and 12 am and between 1 am and 2 am, respectively. Finally, 68% of them attributed their delayed bedtime to social media use, and 59% of them reported that social media had affected their social interactions.
Set a curious kid loose on the internet, and think you have a match made in learning heaven? You're wrong. Unfortunately, for every geometry lesson on ___ (Insert Pitchy E-Learning Name Here) Academy there are step-by-step instructions for something not just age-inappropriate -- but potentially illegal or dangerous.
Further, while browser settings & parental controls may help keep your kids on appropriate sites, it's impossible to shield them from every risky thing. But most kids and teenagers who look up how to make fireworks and rockets, for example, are not reckless enough to try it, but with the rise of social media challenges over the past 15 years, boundary setting is fast become a thing of the past when it comes to the internet.
Bottom line: If E-Learning and online education is to be considered as effective and authentic as traditional learning, it must be ensured that all online schools are qualified and accredited. Unfortunately, as of 2022, there are still a tremendous number of online learning platforms which go unaccredited and where all the materials are quality checked by nobody besides the instructors themselves. This means poor quality assurance, zero safety rules by design, and a lack of accredited online learning providers continue to weaken the legitimacy of online education.