Digital Media, the New “Drug” for Children

Manfred Spitzer, German professor, director of the Department of Psychiatry at the University Hospital of Ulm and the Center for Transfer of Neurosciences and Learning, argues that digital media (computers, tablets and smartphones) “do not increase academic learning capacity, but rather the opposite.” In his opinion, they can have a negative impact on the brain’s learning processes and cause both physical and psychological, pathological disorders.  “Children get used to focusing their attention on screens, outsourcing their brain processes of information gathering, reducing their retention and memorization capacity, causing them to learn less.” “It’s logical,” he says, “because if they use a pocket calculator or a translator, for example, they don’t develop the mental processes necessary to learn arithmetic or a language properly.”

According to the investigation’s results, parents, teachers and politicians are asked for a deep reflection on the pedagogical usefulness, or assitance to learning, of these resources and their risks, which are physical as well. The Spanish medical associations have defined all of this abuse as a new addiction to digital media like any other drug. These new “drugs” are a test of the fragility of the human mind. Because our eight million-year-old genetics developed within nature, with rewards coming from our environment and interrelation in small groups, but today, we have become emotionally deprogrammed from them.

In his latest work, “Cyber Disease,” Spitzer warns that abusing screens makes children “fatter and nearsighted.” It also deprives them of rest, since exposure to screens in the hours before sleep creates a decrease in melatonin secretion and resets their circadian rhythm, “which causes them to wake up tired in the morning.”

When we use them at bedtime, our screens’ blue light, is interpreted by the brain as being daylight and, in addition, corrodes the essential melatonin for tissue repair mechanisms and sleep. One teenager declares that he lost his phone for two days and had two hundred messages, an addict to a new drug genre.

As for the adverse effects on the psychological level, experts talk about attention disorders, stress and depression. A recent British study indicates that 13-year-old girls who spend more than three hours a day on Facebook are twice as likely to suffer from depression five years later. In light of these risks, it is worth asking why educational leaders continue to promote the use of digital devices. Spitzer is blunt: “because of commercial pressures, since they bombard us with messages about the benefits of their products and make us addicted.”

Real World Isolation 

In Spain, a more worrying fact is that, 22% are extreme Internet users, meaning they spend more than six hours connected on weekdays, which not only leaves them little time for other activities such as sports, outings with friends or studying and reading, but it also negatively impacts our sedentary lives. The time for reading, thinking and distractions according to our biological nature is running out!

In South Korea, the country with the greatest penetration of these devices, they know it well. According to data from the Ministry of Science, 30% of those between 10 and 19 are addicted to their smartphones. A similar phenomenon is that of Japanese hikikomoris (secluded “hermits”), who isolate themselves from the real world in their rooms, permanently connected to the internet. Quite a few of them end up being hospitalized or frequent technology detoxification camps.

The analysis has indicated that inappropriate or excessive use among adolescents “can present problems of aggressiveness, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders and, in some cases, social isolation,” according to Raquel Muñoz, principal investigator of the study. The results have been obtained from studies carried out during the 2010-2011 academic year in 28 schools in the Vallés Occidental with 5,538 students between 12 and 20 years old in participation.

Taking a sample of our emotional state: what motivates us and of our lack of objectives for the development of our own personalies present in the world in which we live, what causes the emotional vacuum that hinders the management of personal time in the direction of health, culture, well-being and development of a person? These are symptoms of the simplifying trend of our civilization, where new technologies do the rest. 16% of Spaniards declare themselves openly extremist, demonstrating that trash television produces, facilitates and stimulates this situation and increases the interest to have emotionally altered and exalted voters for certain political parties. Due to all of this, no author has reason to dare to write, their readers will not have the time to devote to such a book. The functions of the pre-frontal portions in the brain are to anticipate and plan for the future. When these gadgets are constantly used since childhood, is is possible for the cerebral lobes to remain completely undeveloped.


 

José Antonio Rodríguez Piedrabuena 
Specialist in Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis