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Digital Dementia: It’s Affecting Us All March 15, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — carlawordsmithblog @ 3:28 pm


Is your toddler already comfortable using your IPhone or IPad?  Do you want him or her to be one of those “technology addicts” you see at every restaurant and possibly suffer serious risks?  If so, you might want to read on.

There’s a new cognitive condition in town and it’s called “Digital Dementia?”  It’s not a joke, it’s not funny and it’s a serious problem, so serious that a recent UCLA study found that 14 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 39 complained of memory problems.   For those little ones you allow to use your tablet and smart phone the hazards are just as high, if not higher.

A few months ago I was driving to work and listened as a medical professional warned of the risks of what he called “Digital Dementia” of young kids today and even toddlers.  Being a preschool teacher who has seen my three-year-olds swipe away on an IPhone or IPad, I listened intently.  What I heard alarmed me so I began doing research.


The term “Digital Dementia” started in South Korea a few years back.  South Korea is home to one the world’s highest digital-use populations but that use is not all good.  Doctors there started seeing young patients suffering from memory and cognitive problems and disorders more commonly linked to brain injuries.   In short, the overuse of smartphones, computers, and other digital devices is increasing stress and leading to the deterioration of cognitive abilities.  We are on the fast-lane to not only having an elder popular with dementia but a younger one with digital dementia.

Stop and consider the standard impression of dementia and more than likely an elderly person who has trouble remembering things, organizing their thoughts, has a very short attention span, and just generally has trouble just thinking comes to mind.  Those symptoms are exactly what are being diagnosed with Digital Dementia of the young.  Scary, right?

Digital Dementia is officially defined as the deterioration of brain function as the result of the overuse of digital technology, resulting in unbalanced brain development.  Heavy tech users are more likely to overdevelop their left-brains, leaving their right-brains somewhat underdeveloped.


Quick brain lesson:  the left side of the brain is traditionally associated with rational thought, numerical computation and fact finding.  The right side is responsible for more creative skills and emotional thoughts.  If the right brain goes underdeveloped, the long-term result can be an early onset of dementia.  With the age of technology growing younger and younger, so is the age of dementia symptoms.


Dr. Manfred Spitzer, a German neuroscientist and author of the book “Digital Dementia” recently spoke in Austin and warned parents that their young child who can nimbly use their devices isn’t necessarily talented but instead may be en route to trouble with memory and thinking.  Sptizer adds that while computers can be beneficial for adults, they’re poison for kids.

“When you use the computer, you outsource your mental activity” Spitzer said.  “Many children don’t memorize anything because they can Google it,” he added.  “But clicking around can contribute to low attention and impair learning.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees.  Way back in 2011 it recommended no TV use for those under age two and reported that media use has been associated with obesity, sleep issues, aggressive behaviors, and attention issues in both pre-school and school-aged children.

Not only are kids’ brains being affected, so are they bodies and lives in general.  The more time a kids spends on a computer, phone, or in front of the TV is less time he or she is spending exercising and interacting with others…face-to-face.  The results?  Obese kids and young teens with little or no social skills.  Still, the national obsession for all things digital is reaching kids younger and younger.  Consider for a moment that it’s estimated  one in 100 children ages 8-18 are said to be addicted to technology.  Addicted!  Eight-years-old!  That’s second or third grade!


Just last night a friend of mine with two sons, one in middle school and one in high school, told me about Ask FM, a somewhat new on-line “app” where you anonymously ask and answer questions from anyone anywhere.  Creepy, right?  She demonstrated that some of the questions are just fun and innocent, but she also told me that it’s one of the newest methods of bullying, as it is totally anonymous.  And it’s all done on phones.   It apparently is only for young ones too, as when I asked my college-aged daughter if she used it she said she’d heard of it but that no one she knows is into it.  What just a few years ago may have been a college phenomenon is now in our middle schools.

Another threat is just what your child is watching on-line or on TV.  Amazingly, one research study found that 60 percent of parents don’t supervise their children’s technology usage and that 75 percent of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms.  Yet another study reported that nearly 100 percent of kids surveyed under eight had TV and cable  and 38 percent have the Internet on their TVs.   Have you seen MTV lately or surfed YouTube?  You might want to before giving your 12-year-old a smart phone and unlimited Netflix and ITunes usage.  One more thing to think about:  the U.S. has categorized media violence as a Public Health Risk.  Yes, that TV or computer your child uses could actually be hurting their health!

It’s reported that young people look at their smartphones about 150 times a day.  This may keep them in touch with friends and “followers,” but it’s also been shown to raise their stress levels and increase anxiety.  Aren’t they under enough stress today?

Nearly one-third of children today learn to use a mobile device before they can talk, those two and under spend an average of 15 minutes a day using the devices, and 70 percent of them master the devices by the time they hit grade school.  By the time those same kiddos are nine, they are proficient at both texting and emailing.


Much of this from a survey conducted by the group Common Sense Media.  The study, called “Zero to Eight:  Children’s Media Use in America 2013,” found that 38 percent of children under age two have used mobile devices of all kinds.  Just three years ago that number was 10 percent.  Three years ago!  The survey also found that in 2011, 38 percent of those eight and under had used a phone or tablet.  Today the percentage is the same…for those two and under!

What has happened?  Number one, parents themselves are increasingly turning to smart phones and tablets so they in turn hand them to their kids to keep them busy.  They may think the kids are doing something educational or beneficial, but they are in fact possibly hurting their own children more than they know.

What can you, as a parent do?

  1. Do not allow any media devices in your child’s bedroom.
  2. Do not allow any child under the age of two to play with any type of screen, whether it is your phone, your tablet, or a TV.
  3. Children ages 3-5 should be restricted to one hour per day of technology exposure.
  4. Limit the use of all devices and have “device free zones” in your home.
  5. Spend more time in nature, listening to music, and working on puzzles, which all help improve right brain development.
  6. Make sure your kids memorize things…in their brains.  This could be anything from the ABCs when little to friends’ phone numbers as they grow to favorite quotes or bible verses.
  7. Limit phone and text usage.  Make your children have actual conversations and meet people face-to-face.
  8. Exercise!
  9. Read actual books, magazines, and newspapers…don’t download them on-line.
  10. Stay off your devices more when with your kids.  Be the example!


The concern is so great that Pediatric Occupational Therapist, biologist, speaker and author Cris Rowan recently penned an article on The Huff Post titled “10 Reasons Why Handheld Devices Should Be Banned for Children Under the Age of 12.”   Her reasons should alarm you.

  1.  Rapid brain growth.  Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli or lack thereof.  Stimulation caused by overexposure to technology has been associated with attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity, and the decreased ability to self-regulate…i.e.: increased temper tantrums.
  2. Delayed development.  Technology use restricts movement, which delays development.  One in three children now enters school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting literacy and academic achievement.
  3. Obesity.  Children who are allowed a device in their bedrooms have a 30 percent increased incidence of obesity.  One in three U.S. children is obese and due to its physical ailments, 21st century children may be the first generation of kids who will not outlive their parents.
  4. Sleep deprivation.  A shocking 75 percent of children are allowed technology in the bedrooms and 60 percent of parents don’t supervise their children’s technology usage.  Not surprisingly, 75 percent of children between the ages 9 and 10 are so sleep deprived that their grades are suffering.
  5. Mental illness.  Technology overuse has been shown to be a casual factor in increasing rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior.
  6. Aggression.  Young children are exposed to more and more incidents of physical, emotional, and sexual violence in today’s media.  Not a day goes by that they can’t find it on TV or on their computers.
  7. Digital dementia.  Yep, here it is.  Rowan warns us that “children who can’t pay attention can’t learn.”
  8. Addictions.  Admit it:  you are addicted to your phone.  I know I am.  Well, Rowan notes that as parents attach more to technology they detach from their children.  Your kids are watching you constantly checking your phone and playing Candy Crush.  In turn, they are become attached to devices themselves.  One in 100 children ages 8-18 are said to be addicted to technology.
  9. Radiation emission.  In May of 2011, the World Health Organization classified cell phone and other wireless devices as a category 2B risk for possi ble carcinogens due to radiation emission.  Do you really want your three-year-old constantly exposed to these?
  10. Unsustainable.  How kids today use technogly and grow obsessed with it has basically become unmanageable.

Still not convinced?  Okay, here’s a challenge.  Give your toddler a toy to play with rather than your phone, move that TV out of your child’s room, limit their phone use, and suggest a game of Scrabble or Monopoly.  I’m guessing you’ll quickly discover that they may indeed be addicted to technology.


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