Maryland could become the first state to address parental concerns about computer screen time for children in the classroom.
Legislation passed this month would require state education officials to develop optimum health and safety practices for the use of digital devices in schools. Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, has not taken a public position on the legislation. If he does not sign or veto it before May 28, the measure will become law without his signature.
The bill throws Maryland into an already heated national debate over the potential for digital devices and apps to addict children — and whether it is up to the tech industry or parents to make sure children don’t get hooked.
Until now, health concerns about children’s use of devices have centered largely on entertainment activities. Studies have reported that children with excessive internet or video-gaming habits can become preoccupied with online activities to the detriment of real-life activities and relationships.
Mindful of such risks, a group of Apple shareholders recently wrote the company a letter that warned of the iPhone’s potential for overuse and that pressed Apple to develop tools for parents to better manage their children’s device habits.
Some pediatricians and parents are now raising similar concerns about classroom laptops, tablets and apps, partly because school districts are adopting digital tools in droves. Last year, primary and secondary schools in the United States spent $5.4 billion on 12.4 million laptop and tablet computers, according to International Data Corporation, a market research firm known as IDC.
Several pediatricians warned that heavy digital device use in schools or for homework could have unintended physical and emotional consequences for students, including vision problems, interrupted sleep and device compulsion. In particular, they noted that some classroom learning apps used powerful, video-game-like reward systems to engage and stimulate students, making it difficult for some children to turn them off.
“The concern is that many programs students use in school are entertainment and gamified,” said Dr. Scott Krugman, a pediatrician in Baltimore County who supported the school device bill. “We felt these are things that should be tracked and monitored.”