Digital dementia is a term I first came across recently. With a fourteen and twelve year old it’s been on my mind, can kids really get dementia?!
Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been diving into the research #vestedinterest. This is what I’ve found… As you can imagine, it's not good.
I have to admit that our kids have definitely experienced tech trance (or dare I say, tech rage). Technology and devices are entrenched in our lives, we can’t avoid them, yet there’s much we can do to manage them and make them safe. It's an important conversation – whatever age your kids are (and for us as adults).
Research is showing that in the USA 95% of children aren’t getting enough sleep, exercise or safe screen use, much of it's related to device use. The average amount of time children are using a device is 7.5 hrs / day. For some teens it's 8 – 12 hours /day! You might've noticed it yourself. Driving past the bus stops as kids are waiting for the school bus or as soon as they leave school, devices out, necks craned, sucked into another world.
Mental illness, such as anxiety and depression is accelerating in our kids! The following can help paint a picture as to what's going on.
What is digital dementia?
Briefly, digital dementia is the thinning of the brain cortex (outer layer of the brain) responsible for thinking, speech, feeling, decision making and processing information received from our senses.
Signs of digital dementia and excessive screen time;
Changes in behaviour
Inability to focus
ADHD, ADD, Brain fog
Poor social skills
Tiredness and poor sleep
Lack of confidence and so much more.
Our childrens’ brains are still developing and therefore so much more vulnerable to what we expose them too, especially the affects of technology and digital devices.
The other affects are equally alarming & are contributing to digital dementia;
Constant stress on the body. This is due to poor posture. The craned neck and curved spine signal to the body a state of stress i.e. fight and flight. This makes for shallow breathing from the chest and shoulders or through the mouth rather than deep, diaphragmatic breathing that’s calming and restorative & through the nose. This posture also leads to poor digestive function.
Addiction. Happy hormones (e.g. dopamine) are released with the ‘likes’, ‘new followers’ ‘wins’ which are addictive. This need to feel liked is in our evolutionary DNA.
Disturbed sleep or insomnia. With constant exposure to blue light emitted from the screen, especially at night, creates imbalance in melatonin (our sleep hormone), leading to disturbed sleep patterns.
Poor muscular development. With more time on screens, there is less time for outdoors, being active and using core muscles that are critical for developing strong digestion, metabolism and brain function (nervous system) etc.
Less time outside as nature intended, disconnects us from our biology & ourselves plus causes
A microbiome (the bodies microbial population) imbalance due to less time outside and less exposure to our native microbial population.
Consumption v creation. Kids are generally now spending most of their time consuming rather than using their minds to create. The forecast is 60% of our kids today will be self employed. To do this well they will need to be self motivated, have inter personal skills & be creative.
Cellular disruption due to excessive EMF (electro magnetic field) exposure of being on devices, potentially leading to chronic illness.
We can’t prevent our kids using them & there are positives, but we do need to teach them a healthy & safe relationship to technology, and importantly being good role models ourselves.
Childrens' developing brains and bodies are especially vulnerable to what they are exposed to, especially technology.
This varies depending on the research. However, it is clear that children under the age of 2 years old should have very little exposure, if any, to a device. For other age groups it will depend on how they're using it and what they're using it for. Blocks of 2 hour usage is a general recommendation with an average use of 2 - 3 hours a day.
What we can do
Clear boundaries on when screen usage is allowed in your home.
Digital free times throughout the day e.g. ideally an hour after waking, no devices at mealtimes or the last hour before bedtime at least.
Time outside before screen use ie sky time before screen time.
Reduce blue light exposure e.g. use a screen filter or use blue blocker glasses e.g. the app f.lux for laptops & iPads (or many have inbuilt blue light blocking technology now).
Reduce EMF exposure. Keep distance between the device and their bodies e.g. place something between their lap and the ipad or laptop eg a large cushion or better still place the device on a table in front of them, (ensuring good posture). Have no devices in the bedroom and turn the wifi off at night. Put the device in aircraft mode whenever possible.
Sitting on the floor. Using devices sitting on the floor rather than the couch or chair naturally gets kids using their body more and can improve posture.
Posture breaks. Set a timer so you remember and take regular breaks from the screen, preferably outside.
Healthy food! After spending time on screens kids can crave carbs and sugary foods, often less healthy options for quick energy & comfort food if feeling stressed. Stock them and the kitchen with lots of good, real food options. Especially healthy fats.
Quality sleep and so they have the energy to make better choices.
Crowd it out. Amp up the fun off screen e.g. sport, music, art, creative activities etc. So they experience & stimulate their senses off screen & don't have time for it. Our son wanted to make a tree house. He pretty much did it himself with his buddies. They love it. Spending their time building it & then 'hanging' in it! A great sense of achievement and SO happy! (pic below).
Sky time v screen time! #embracetheelements #whatevertheweather.
Chat with other parents and get on the same page re devices e.g. a device free zone etc.
The best antidote: Exercise. Movement stimulates the hippocampus (responsible for memory & affected by device use), keep them moving.
Simply taking the kids outside with unstructured play, shoes off is a fantastic place to start.
This generation of children are 'guinea pigs' i.e. an experiment in understanding just what the developmental ramifications of screen time will be for them? It's untested. However we DO know, that as a species we are already far more inactive and moving less efficiently than our ancestors, and screens are only exacerbating this.
For kids to thrive they need interpersonal and parental presence and genuine connection with more time outside, shoes off, skin exposed to the weather, enjoying creative, free play. It’s their human nature.
Our children are older so it's been easy sharing this research with them. And I remind them it’s hard for me to manage too! They're not alone. Try creating a sky time v screen time plan together.
Forewarned is to be forearmed. We have all had times when the kids have spent way too much time on their devices. There is no guilt, just awareness. When we know better we can do better.
I hope this helps you and your family limit the potentially devastating affect technology is having on our kids developing brains... the unique intelligence that governs the rhythmic, vital function of their amazing bodies.
Now I'd love to hear how you manage devices in your home? Please share in the comments below.
Kate is a 'guide by your side'. She shows you what your body needs for optimum health. Work with Kate and take back control of your unique health requirements with simple, fun and common sense strategies.