Digital Dementia ­Guidelines for educators regarding technology use in school settings

    by Cris Rowan on September 10, 2013 in Child Development, Technology and Children

child with cell phone

Mounting research indicates unrestricted use of technology (cell phones,

internet, TV) by children is resulting in negative impact on physical and

mental health, social wellbeing, and academic performance, suggesting a

cautionary approach toward the use of technology in school settings. As

rates of technology addiction soar, children and youth are presenting with

problematic behaviours and disorders that are not well understood by health

and education professionals. Obesity, developmental delay, sleep

deprivation, anxiety, depression, aggression, social phobia, and inability

to pay attention or learn, are all associated with technology overuse

bringing into question “Are the ways in which we are educating and raising

children with technology sustainable?”  This article will profile recent

research on the impact of education technology on attention and learning,

review technology evaluation and screening tools, and propose school-based

technology guidelines and interventions to achieve Balanced Technology

Management in education settings.


Recent Research

Both Canada and the US report declining academic performance in literacy,

science and math. Why? South Korea recently coined the phrase “Digital

Dementia” to describe what is becoming a worldwide phenomenon in youth,

permanent memory loss and inability to focus, causally linked to technology

overuse. Journal of Computers and Education recently reported that

multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and

fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content.


Mounting research indicates eminent dangers of WiFi and cell phones on human

health, as well as escalating rates of mental illnesses associated with

technology overuse, such as ADHD, autism, technology addictions. Further

studies demonstrate that children who have unrestricted technology use at

home, often come to school sleep deprived impacting academic performance,

yet research indicates that parents and teachers continue to favour

unrestricted technology use.


Neuroanatomical Changes

Gary Small¹s research showed pruning of neuronal tracks to frontal cortex in

children who overuse videogames, bringing into question, what are the

effects of unrestricted technology in the school setting? The brain triples

in size in the 0-2 year old through synaptic connection formation, heavily

influenced by environmental stimuli, or lack thereof. Prior to entering

school, young children are wiring their brains to be stimulus/response

mechanisms, devoid of empathy, impulse control, or executive function.

Whether parents and teachers want to admit it or not, we are witnessing the

de-evolution of the human species as a result of prevalent and unrestricted

technology overuse, and both primary and secondary causal factors for

technology addiction need to be considered in order to reverse technology¹s

destructive process.


Evaluation and Screening

Families with technology addictions are already seeking professional help,

as soon will be whole schools. A study by Japan¹s Ministry of Education has

concluded that over half a million Japanese children aged 12-18 are addicted

to internet activities, and consequently is seeking government funding

assistance for interventions such as outdoor ³fasting camps² and other

strategies to reduce the use of cell phones, computers, and hand held gaming

devices. Assigning qualified counsellors to treat group-based addictions

will break our already strained health and education systems. Restricting

family technology use cannot be regulated or legislated by government,

although maybe school technology use can. Creating sustainable futures for

our technology addicted culture needs to include broad sweeping initiatives

which screen and address technology addictions, and build family and school

capacity. Despite this growing research showing the down-side of

technology, many education professionals continue to escalate education

technology use, while failing to evaluate the efficacy of technology

programs toward achieving long term academic goals. Continued use of

non-evidenced-based technologies in school settings could be considered an

unprecedented experiment of epic proportion, one which may result in

pervasive illiteracy in a whole generation of children. Teachers also fail

to evaluate individual student appropriateness for specific technologies.


Children who are high users of entertainment technologies, such as video

games, pornography, Facebook, and texting, are already attention deficit,

indicating the need for restricted technology usage in school. Schools fail

to routinely screen children or youth for technology overuse, and

consequently fail to provide necessary technology education and reduction

strategies for students and their parents.


Guidelines and Interventions

Educational focus in the primary grades should be on achieving literacy,

considered the foundation for learning. As technology prohibits attainment

of literacy (computers don¹t teach children to print), technology

restrictions should be in place for grades K-3, and used judiciously for

grades 4-7. Teaching children to print has proven to enhance literacy, as

well as extend to enhanced performance in all subjects. Knowing how to

produce letters and numbers subconsciously, allows the brain to focus on the

specific academic tasks such as spelling and math. Yet, 5% of primary

teachers don¹t teach printing at all, and the rest spend an average of 14

minutes per day on printing instruction, which is insufficient to achieve

printing skill. Children who can¹t print demonstrate poor letter recognition

for reading, and produce slower output for math, spelling, and sentence

production. If teachers are expecting children to print, (90% of graded

output in elementary settings is produced with a pencil), they better start

teaching it.


The need for universal education regarding the negative impact of technology

on attention and learning is imperative, and requires a collaborative

approach by both education and health professionals. Zone¹in Programs Inc.

offers both live workshops and recorded webinars by trained occupational

therapists to help students, parents and educators better understand the

negative impact of technology on child development and learning, These

Foundation Series Workshops/Webinars also offer a variety of useful tools

and techniques to evaluate and screen students for technology overuse. The

Foundation Series Workshops/Webinars follow the Balanced Technology

Management concept where adults manage balance between activities which

promote optimal growth and success, with technology use. Examples of

handouts are the Technology Guidelines for Teachers, Technology Screening

Tool, Technology Schedule, Technology Diet, Technology Rx Pad, Unplug¹in

Parent Brochure, and Ten Steps to Unplug Children from Technology. Cris

Rowan, CEO of Zone¹in Programs Inc. has also recently published ³Virtual

Child ­ The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children²

available on for health and education professionals. School media

literacy programs are a good place to start with student technology

education. Zone¹in Programs Inc. offers schools the Live¹in Resource Guide,

as well as the Unplug¹in Game as technology education tools for students.


These two programs advocate for schools to participate in a one week unplug

from all technology, and provide numerous innovative and fun ways for

students to build skills and confidence in activities other than technology.


children in playgroundOne important consideration by schools is to enhance their existing

playgrounds to entice students to play at recess and after school. Diverting

funds from computers toward building play grounds with age appropriate

equipment would improve motor development, reduce obesity, and enhance

social skills. The majority of playgrounds challenge only the younger

grades, indicating need for inclusion for the 7-18 year olds e.g. skateboard

and bike parks, zip lines, large climbing structures. Community initiatives

to counteract the effects of technology could focus on beaches and parks,

including addition of benches, picnic tables, covered fire pits, and adult

exercise equipment to attract the teens and parents. Destination nature

trails of varying lengths with tree houses, covered fire pits, and spiritual

centres at trail end would attract the more adventurous families. Free

admission to recreation centres for 0-18 years would also entice children

and youth off technology. These suggestions were provided during ³Tech

Talks² offered to grade 4-9 children and youth in First Nations communities

(sponsored by Vancouver Coastal Health) when asked the question ³What would

make you put down the device and go outside²?


Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, author, and educator on

the impact of technology on child development, behavior and learning, and

can be reached at





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