What is digital dementia? This term was coined several years ago in South Korea, where doctors reported alarming rates of memory and cognitive deficiencies. Children’s brains began to respond much like those who experienced brain injuries. Many researchers contend that the more that you train your children with electronics, the less capacity they will have to pay attention, develop emotionally, and function well in a classroom. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests limiting screen time to one or two hours per day. Some parents think that the suggestion is overkill, and that children aren’t harmed by electronic use. Excessive media use has been linked to memory loss, difficulty with paying attention, and obesity. Why? Because your brain and body aren’t exercising when you are staring at a screen. I find myself siding with AAP and researchers, and believing that adults, and entire families, may also benefit from limited screen time.
Have you ever taken a look around the store, or restaurant, and observed the families in the room? Are they interacting with each other? Are they truly present? Are their faces obscured by devices? Sadly, you may notice that far too many kids are not only using devices for hours on end, but they are currently addicted to them. Many people would prefer to argue over the existence of digital dementia, without considering the necessity of monitoring the technology use of our children. I have been working with Superkiddo to help him remain more fascinated by his books, and toys, than he is by any gaming system, or mobile device. My mom friends and I have pledged to keep each other accountable in our quest to not raise screen zombies. We implemented the following tools, and so far, they work:
- Research Roundup: Search engines are powerful, and readily accessible; however, they aren’t necessarily designed to help us get any smarter. Sure, you can get results faster, but will you really learn anything, or appreciate the work that it takes to find the answer? Let your children see what it takes to dig into multiple sources, and how to navigate the reference section of your local library.
- Read Actual Books: You know…the ones with paper pages. I love my e-reader, and it has its place. I noticed that the more that I read from a device, the more that Superkiddo wanted to play on it. He never saw what I was doing as reading, even if I showed him that only words, not pictures or videos, were on the screen. When I began to spend more time with physical books again, my child stopped asking for so much screen time.
- Celebrate Imagination: My family frequently visits the Disney Parks. We are fascinated every time that we arrive. The exhibits, rides, and experiences weren’t created by people who were only staring at the creations of others on a screen. The Imagineers had to use their own creative imaginations to develop what we get to see and enjoy. Our children can be the same way. Encourage them to explore nature, delve into arts and crafts, and build with their toys. Show them that they can have great fun, and create incredible things, without screen time.
- Go Outside: I am sure that my fellow Southerners are yelling at the screen, but it is TOO HOT. I agree; however, it isn’t 100 degrees all day. Pick a time at which you, and your family can get outside. You may not have the time to load up the car, and head to the beach, but you have time to at least walk the block, kick the soccer ball around the yard, or ride your bikes. Yes, I am always encouraging physical activity, but trust me, it is great for you.
I do not pretend to have all of the answers; however, I am noticing an alarming, expanding trend in far too many children. Our kids are addicted to mobile devices, and aren’t moving enough. Why aren’t we, the parents, the grownups who should know better, doing anything? Perhaps we aren’t sure what can be done. Perhaps we appreciate that technology makes life easier, and we try not to dwell on any potentially negative side effects. Am I suggesting that we eliminate technology? Absolutely not; however, I think that we can take small steps to help our children focus on the world beyond their tiny screens.
Our kids will follow our lead. If they see that we enjoy books, they will more than likely prefer them. If our children see that we are active, and looking for things to do outside, they will want to as well. It may seem easier to just pass our phones to our children at restaurants, in the car, or when they are bored, but I believe that it will not benefit us in the long run. Schedule, and monitor screen time for children, and encourage them to use their brains, and move their bodies. I believe this will enable us to help our children grow healthier, and smarter.
Do you solve your children’s boredom with a digital device? Are their favorite toys actual toys, or gaming systems, phones, or tablets? What are your views on monitoring digital access? Do you believe that researchers are off their rockers, or do they have a point? I would love to know your thoughts.