Digital Dementia


For nearly seven years now as a Pastor, I have been warning parents about the harmful effects on their children of too much “screen time.”

It used to be TV.  Then it was computers or laptops.  Now it’s an iPad or iPhone or X-Box.

As a Pastor, all I was doing was observing the declining attention spans and people skills of children and youth in the church.  They had their faces stuck in a screen all the time, and it seemed obvious to me it was doing something detrimental to them in the real world of human relations.  They could not carry on a conversation with adults for more than a minute.  They could not pay attention to a Bible lesson or sermon for more than 5 minutes.  They could not and would not sit at a dinner table without checking their phone every 5 minutes.  I have also observed all this in young adults (30 years and under).  They have great relationships with their devices, but their marriages have horrific communication, and their parenting relies too heavily on – you guessed it – electronic babysitters.

Turns out there is a growing body of scientific research backing up my pastoral observations.  A top German neuroscientist, Manfred Spitzer, has coined the term “digital dementia” to describe loss of cognitive abilities due to screen time.  The effects being witnessed are more typically associated with head injuries or psychosis!

South Korean scientists are studying this too, since they have the largest percentage of screen time in the world among their youth.  Excessive screen time or digital love affairs over-develop the left side of the brain, while leaving the right side malnourished.  The right side of the brain is responsible for things like concentration, logical and long-term planning, and memory.

We don’t try to memorize information now and then use our brains to retrieve it when needed.  That’s what an I-phone is for!  In other words, we’re not interested in truly learning something.  We just trust our devices.

Other research has shown excessive screen time contributes to a loss of compassion and ability to relate to others, and also loss of ability to show emotion.  No wonder we have such a love affair with zombies!  We are becoming zombies, incapable of emoting.

Still more research is showing us video games having dopamine-type effects.  It’s highly addictive.

Other effects include: inability to plan, organize, and prioritize.  Read more about all this and more Here

So, Christian parents, aside from all the ruinous spiritual consequences associated with hours and hours of screen time, you now have good, solid science telling you to take control of the situation before it’s too late.

The article linked above has some suggestions for how to help your children fight this digital war.  Here are a few of my own, based on the biblical principle of “put off / put on” as expressed in Ephesians 4:17-32 and Colossians 3.  You want to help your child “put off” the harmful habit (screen time) and “put on” the more beneficial habit.

  • Spend far more time reading the Bible with your kids.
  • Demand your kids spend more time reading the Bible themselves.
  • Catechize your children.  The question / answer method of learning has proven itself over thousands of years.  This will exercise the memory part of their brains, and yours too!
  • Memorize Scripture together with your kids.
  • Play chess, checkers, or Connect Four.  These old school games are cognitive and relational.
  • Do outdoor activities with your kids.
  • Engage your kids with adults and other kids at church, at parks, in social functions.  Do not allow them to tote their phones to these activities, or if they do insist they keep them off and in their pockets.
  • Serve the less fortunate or suffering.  Compassion and empathy are not optional for Christians!
  • Read books and discuss them with your family.  Model and teach your kids how to engage with ideas.
  • Model healthy screen habits yourself.
  • Have non-negotiable times where all devices are shut down, and set non-negotiable time limits for daily and weekly usage on all devices.  A “digital fast” one day a week would do wonders for all of us, I think!

You’ll think of other things, no doubt!  Personally, my own temptation is TV.  I study a lot and read a lot during the day, and want to come home and just “veg out” on mindless screen entertainment.  But God is convicting me to fight this poor habit and try to do some Bible study, or some more relational things with my girls at night.  I’m learning slowly.  Got a long way to go.  Join me in the fight!

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