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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 April 2006, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
School 'screen culture' warning
Primary schoolchildren at computers
Schools' 'screen culture' requires study, says Baroness Greenfield
Increasing use of technology in schools could be damaging children's attention spans, forcing "appalling over-use" of the drug Ritalin, says a top scientist.

Baroness Susan Greenfield called for a study into the effects of schools' "screen culture" and into the drug used to treat hyperactivity.

"We cannot just sleepwalk into the technology," said the baroness, director of the Royal Institution.

Some 30,000 of the country's children are said to receive Ritalin.

The class-B drug treats Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which causes hyperactivity in children.

We need to think about a whole raft of convergent technologies on young people's minds
Baroness Susan Greenfield

Baroness Greenfield, who is sponsoring a Lords debate on the issue on Thursday, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that children were today "much more exposed to the screen... they have multimedia flashing up and bombarding them at the touch of a button".

"Perhaps that is inducing, and I do stress perhaps, a reduction in attention spans compared with kids who spent more of their childhoods reading books in the old days."

She added: "We need a co-ordinated study, and only the government I think could organise such a study, where we pull together all the information that people are producing both on drugs and on screen culture.

"We cannot keep the two isolated - we need to think about everything as a whole raft of convergent technologies on young people's minds today."

Technology lessons

The baroness also highlighted a London School of Economics study that found 92% of nine to 19-year-olds had accessed the internet from home or school, but 30% had received no lessons on its use.

"What I would like the government to consider doing is thinking of ways in which we can enable them to get the most out of [technology]," she said.

A Department of Health spokesman said ADHD could have serious consequences "for children, their families and for society".

"Children with untreated ADHD are at increased risk of developing severe behavioural and social problems, including antisocial and criminal behaviour, and their educational achievement is frequently severely impaired. The pressure on families can be extreme."

Guidelines made it clear that Ritalin should only be prescribed under supervision by a specialist doctor and children should be regularly monitored, he said.

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