Francisca Benitez

A bill is currently in the Oregon Legislature’s Senate Committee that would require the Department of Education, in cooperation with the Oregon Health Authority, to conduct research into what effects extensive time with electronic screens have on children, and to create limits on time with screens in the classroom based on the findings of the research.

The bill — SB 282 — is part of a trio of bills centered on technology in schools. SB 281 would require electronics to be clearly labeled with health risks, and SB 283 is focused on microwave radiation emitted by electronics.

SB 282 would allow parents the option to “give or deny consent for the parent’s child to participate in curricula that involve extensive work with computers, mobile digital devices or electronic media.” Schools would be required to provide alternative curricula that has less time with screens.

The bill would also require more physical activity outside the classroom for students and for information from the research to be distributed to parents.

Children are spending more time with screens than ever before, and the effect of screen time on children has become a common focus of research and debate.

In February, CNN reported in 2014 children younger than 2 years old watched screens an average of 3.05 hours every day, which is more than double the average time in 1997.

Healthline reported scientists have found a correlation between more screen time and lower thinking and language skills, but it’s hard to tell if the lower scores are caused by the increased screen time or if children who struggle with those types of tasks are drawn to screens more than other children. The report referenced screen time guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2016 that said not to allow children younger than 18 months any screen time, and only very limited and carefully curated time for children 18 to 24 months old. For children 2 to 5 years old, less than an hour of screen time was recommended.

CNN reported in January there is little evidence that time with screens affects children’s development, although the issue is still being studied. According to the report, use of screens before bedtime can interfere with children’s sleep, and when screen time replaces time with parents or exercise, it can lead to obesity or underdeveloped social skills.

Dr. Rae Ette Newman-Conedera is the coordinator of the Early Childhood Education Program at EOU. She said the biggest problem with screen time is not how much children are getting at school, but what they are seeing and how much they are using screens at home.

See complete story in Monday's Observer