If somebody told you that you were consuming something that was toxic to you, you’d probably pay attention. I’ve written about drawbacks of the digital age, particularly to children. A child’s brain can be affected by spending too much time on electronic devices. It can be toxic.
It’s called neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself “by forming new neural connections, leaving behind past traits and developing new ones” according to Tom Kersting, a psychotherapist. He’s concerned that sound bites and tweets can interfere with digesting more meaningful information.
He goes on to say: “I do think that we might lose the ability to analyze things with any depth and nuance. Like any skill, if you don’t use, it you lose it.” Wow.
Kerstner authored Disonnected, which is an eye opener. He became interested in the topic in 2009 when he was seeing kids with ADHD which usually develops by age 8, but now is occurring with teenagers. The iPhone was introduced in 2007. That’s no coincidence.
A doctor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. John Ratey coined the phrase “acquired attention deficit disorder”(AADD). . It describes the result of too much screen time which rewired the brain of teenagers who had not had ADHD before.
By 2016, Kersting and other psychotherapists found the following:
- Kids becoming emotionally fragile with a lack of critical coping skills because they are not engaged in the real world with person-to-person interaction.
- Reduced social and communication skills due to lack of face-to-face interaction, making it difficult for them to handle everyday bumps.
What makes this even more concerning is that one of the schools in the Silicon Valley – the Waldorf School – is the school where 75% of students are children of technology executives.
What makes the school different? It has no computers. “They try and minimize tech altogether, and so people enjoy a lot of time face-to-face, [and] they go outside a lot.” It is one of 160 schools around the country that have the same model of no computers.
These are children of parents in the tech industry who publicly “expound on the wonders of the products they’re producing”. ”[A]t the same time, they decide in all their wisdom that their kids didn’t belong in a school that used that same tech.”
I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I can conclude that those tech parents know something that we don’t. They know that learning with little or no digital world will eliminate the need to help their kids go through withdrawal later on.
Disconnected has worrisome anecdotal stories of kids addicted to video games. Withdrawal from any addiction can be hard.
An example of withdrawal: an 11-year-old boy in Cleveland stole his mother’s car and led police on a high-speed chase resulting in a wrecked car. He was mad because his mother took away his PlayStation, a digital gaming device.
France has just banned smartphones in school for students aged 3 to 15. Something is wrong when you have to ban a 3-year-old from having a smartphone – who would give one to them anyway? As one mother said, “Children don’t have the maturity for cellphones”, and then she added, “Some adults don’t either.” Good stuff.
In the U.S., some 79% of children aged 12-17 have cellphones. Not surprising, studies show that a ban on cellphones can improve grades, according to Louis-Phillipe Baland, a professor. Baland believes that anything short of a ban is not nearly as effective.
The digital age is here to stay, like it or not. But you can set up boundaries for your adolescents as suggested by Kersting and others. You also may need to execute plans which help the next generation withdraw from overuse.
The challenge here is to create awareness of the addictive and toxic nature of the digital world on children and adolescents. Both parents and mentors need to pay attention to the reality that too much of the digital world is not a good thing.
MENTOR TAKEAWAY: Be conscious of the amount of digital time spent by your mentee. Overuse can have long term effects on emotional and intellectual health. Just meeting in a face-to-face context can help.
FURTHER STUDY: France bans cellphones in schools in the Washington Post (July, 2018).
New York Times Article on “A Silicon Valley School that Doesn’t Compute” (2017)
Inc Magazine: Six Apps to help stop cellphone addiction.
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr.
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked, by Adam Alter, a Professor at New York University (2017).
Disconnected: How to Reconnect Our Digitally ConnectedKids , by Tom Kersting (2017).
WORSHIP: A new song – high energy, which says that no matter what happens, we’ll Never Gonna Stop Singing.
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Photo Courtesy of Dan Rush.