German psychiatrist and neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer warns. The intense use of digital devices reduces the mental capacity of our children.

German psychiatrist and neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer warns. The intense use of digital devices reduces the mental capacity of our children.

The intense use of digital devices reduces the mental capacity of our children. Psychiatrist and neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer warns parents and teachers

Professor Manfred Spitzer, a neurologist and medical director at the Psychiatric University Hospital in Ulm, has received increased attention from the press thanks to his highly seel book called Digital Dementia. How we become crazy ourselves and our children (Digitale Demenz. Wie wir uns und unsere Kinder um den Verstand bringen)) and its terse opinions.

Referring to numerous findings in the field of neurology and adding new findings, Manfred Spitzer brings in his book new arguments – in support of previous researches of renowned specialists in the field – that too frequent use of the Internet can dull people. In spite of the malicious attacks of the press on him, he did not in any way denigrate the young and adult Internet users. On the contrary, in order to understand his position, he said: “I do not say it is a disease, but I say: where there are results, there are also risks and side effects” [1]. But Spitzer not only warns, but also shows what parents, teachers and politicians can do to protect the youth.

It’s not a new thing that watching television on infancy period and frequent, the hours playing computer games and violent video games, phone calls, and sending messages on the phone, scattering the feelings, thoughts and personal images on social networks may have a negative influence on the feelings, thoughts, behavior and social contacts of children and adolescents. For over two decades, serious media scientists and responsible educators, judges that deals with adolescents or hard-pressed parents of internet addicted adolescents have drawn attention to the adverse effects of excessive use of digital media. In his new book, Neurobiologist Manfred Spitzer gathered compelling scientific evidence on the subject, and supplemented them with some more recent research in neurophysiology. He also fired an alarm by warning that the too frequent use of digital media makes us and our children crazy.

From digital media to digital dementia

At the beginning of his book, Manfred Spitzer quotes American publisher and internet specialist Nicholas Carr, who has described his negative internet experience: “What the internet seems to do is diminish my ability to concentrate and contemplate. Whether I’m online or not, my mind is now waiting to receive the information in the way that Internet spreads it: into a stream of particles that are moving fast. (…) When I mention to my friends the problems I have with reading, many say they suffer from similar disorders. The more you use the Internet, the more you have to fight to focus on larger parts of the text. “

Five years ago, doctors in South Korea, a very advanced industrial country, which probably has the largest digital coverage in the world, have discovered in their young adults not just phenomena similar to those described by adult intellectuals in United States of America, but also discovered memory and attention disorders, emotional devastation and dullness, as well as reading problems. Because these people have admitted that they use computers and the Internet intensively, doctors have established a causal relationship and called the  symptom range „digital dementia”.

According to Spitzer, digital media – that is, computers, smartphones, gaming consoles and TVs – not only changes our lives, it makes ourselves and our children go crazy, promoting a process of “mental decline” (dementia ). He describes these neurological processes in his book and shows how the structure of the “information processing system” called the brain adapts to the changing needs, such as subcontracting the thoughts of a kind of machinery to the brain, and how this dynamic organ dies when the exercise or feeding information are missing from our activities.

At the end of October 2011, over 1,000 Internet specialists participated in an online US poll. When asked what impact this long-term digital world will have, half of them have made the following pessimistic assertion about the future of the Internet and its impact on the mental capabilities of the next generation:

“In 2020, the brains of adolescents and young multi-tasking adults (who are doing different activities at the same time) will be” linked to the network “differently from people’s brains over 35, and this will have unpleasant and sad consequences. They can hardly remember anything; they will dispose of most of their energy on the exchange of short social messages or fun and deviation from a truly profound commitment to people and knowledge. They will not have the fundamental ability to think or interact face to face with the people around them. Instead, they will depend on the Internet and mobile devices in an extremely unhealthy way to work to some extent. Essentially, changes in behavior and thinking among young people will generally have negative consequences. ” Wonderful new world of computers!

Using digital devices from child to adolescent

The German Federal Government’s Drug Commissioner’s Annual Report of May 22, 2012 states that in Germany, about 250,000 people aged 14-24 are internet-addict and 1.4 million are considered Internet users with problems. In just 5 years, the number of game addicts increased 3 times. Young unemployed men were particularly affected. Manfred Spitzer says young German people spend twice as much time using digital devices as they did for learning. But not only are young people dependent on digital devices. The result of a survey conducted in 2007 with 729 mothers revealed that, at that time, “13% of children under one year old, 20% of one year old, 60% of those 2 years old and 89% of  3 years old were allowed to watch TV. ” The result of Spitzer’s own research is also hard to believe: In Germany, “800,000 preschool children watch TV at 22 o’clock, at 23 o’clock there are still 200,000, and even at midnight 50,000 children under 6 continue to look at TV”. Children just copied what their parents had shown them, says Spitzer.

A television screen is not a good nanny, nor a  good teacher

Manfred Spitzer also points out that “digital devices are harmful for learning and therefore for the mental development of children.” Many scientific studies show that young people are actively embarrassed in the process of learning by Baby TV and Baby Einstein DVDs. According to a large-scale US study in 2007, “little children looking at Baby TV or Baby DVDs know fewer words, and their language skills are delayed. (…) But if a parent reads them daily, a positive effect on the development of language is achieved. Even the daily stories of storytelling had a significant positive effect. “

Despite this, the television industry has found a new audience target in our country in recent years: Baby TV, a „$ 500 million industry”. Not surprisingly, according to the Health Insurance Company BarmerGEK’s 2012 Medical Report, focusing on children’s health, 1.1 million children in Germany under 14 – that is, almost 10% – were diagnosed with disorders in the development of language and language skills. At these children the normal pattern of language acquisition in early stages of development is affected, although there is no clear evidence of serious organic injury as a cause of anomalies. Most children are affected at the age of 5-6: almost 38% of boys and 30% of girls [2].

But Baby TV not only prevents mental development and speech but also predisposes to obesity. So parents should no longer allow international corporations to persuade them to watch television and DVDs that they say have positive effects on their children.

Watching tv shows from the infancy, carrying out multiple activities simultaneously and attention disorders

After decades of research regarding the Internet, computer scientist and pioneer of the World Wide Web, David Gelernter, claimed that “children’s brains need rest” [3]. In 2004, American pediatrician Dimitri Christakis and his colleagues already said that “watching television at an early age results in an increased incidence of attention deficit disorder (meaning  loss of self-control) at school age.” A study published in the journal Pediatria in autumn 2011 confirmed this correlation. Manfred Spitzer considers it to be embarrassing that it was not until 2011 that the scientific community succeeded in confirming what parents and grandparents knew from the start: that after watching the cartoon channel for hours – for example on Sunday morning – the children they were no good because they had become “exhausted”.

According to Spitzer, “multitasking” – to do different activities at the same time or the simultaneous use of multiple digital devices and a correlated approach to multiple tasks simultaneously – leads to a faulty attention and to the active cultivation of superficiality and inefficiency. A 15-year-old multitasking teenager describes his life as follows: “Through mobile phone messages (SMS) I am always talking to people while checking my emails by doing my homework or playing computer games while talking on the phone “…

Insomnia, depression, addiction and physical consequences

The digitization of our world has not only harmful effects on the mind, but also on the body, says Spitzer. He presents a series of studies that show that insomnia, depression and addiction are the extremely dangerous consequences of using digital devices whose impact on the general health of today’s young generation can hardly be overestimated.

A physical consequence of addictive behavior – as recent data from brain research has shown – is that young people are overweight. “Social isolation and anxiety are common side effects,” says Spitzer, “there is a downward spiral developing at the end of which there is not only depression and social isolation but also many physical diseases that reach the cardiovascular system, the muscular and skeletal system (lack of movement, incorrect position) to dementia. ” Since children and adolescents in this country spend most of their time using digital devices, we need to worry about predictable mental and physical injury in the long term. “

Computers and Internet in the classroom

But parents are convinced by the computer industry and its relentless advertisements that spend huge sums to buy a laptop – “A laptop for each student” or “Laptop instead of a school bag” – because they are said to improve school performance of pupils. However, the opposite is true, and it has been known for a long time. Modern information technology, says Spitzer, “leads to more superficial thinking, distracts attention and has unwanted side effects, ranging from simple illness to child pornography and violence.” Other serious scientists see things the same way.

Among other things, Spitzer quotes a statement of the former US internet guru Clifford Stoll, who in 1995 already compares computers in school with the movies once showed in schools: “I loved them because we did not have to think for an hour. Teachers loved them because they did not have to teach for an hour, and their parents loved it because they showed that their school was technically high. But we did not learn anything (of them). ” Four years later, Clifford Stoll explained his point of view in his much-acclaimed „High Tech Heretic” book. Why computers do not belong to classrooms and other reflections of a computer opponent (High Tech Heretic, Why Computers Don’t Belong in Classroom and Other Reflections by a Computer Contrarian).

Spitzer also mentions the former president of the American Educational Research Association and Stanford University Professor of Education, Larry Cuban. Cuban’s book is suggestively titled: Oversold and Underused, with the subtitle „Computers in the classroom” Cuban saying, “Those who advocate for digital devices in schools, funded by public money, need to first provide evidence of their positive effects “.

Education is the most important factor for a person’s health. Moreover, the foundation for lifelong learning is put into childhood. Therefore, schools should provide good education and invest in good teachers, not in hours with the laptop, because education requires people with whom an inter human relationship can be established, which is extremely necessary for a harmonious development of the brain.

What applies to schools is also applicable to kindergartens. Computers and the Internet do not belong in schools or kindergartens. “Those who want their children to become mathematicians or information technology specialists,” says Spitzer, “has to take care of finge games rather than laptops in kindergartens. And whoever takes the written language seriously should plead for more pencils instead of keyboards. “

The skill to use digital devices is just as important as alcohol ability

When asked by a journalist how to become competent in digital devices, Manfred Spitzer makes a comparison with alcohol: “Not through practice, but with the longest abstinence you acquire the healthiest way to deal with this matter. (…) Both give dependency and we do not need it “[4].

Spitzer believes that the slogan “media training” – that is, the skill of using digital devices at different levels – suggests especially to insecure parents from disadvantaged social backgrounds that “they would do something good if they invest their little money in hardware and rapid getting old software. ” They think that if they put their child in front of a computer from an early age, children will not have to endure the hard working faith of their parents. These parents do not know that the „ brand new home computer will hurt the child’s development at school, which means so much to them. “

Digital games affect school performance, social contacts, and relationships with parents and friends

If children and young people spend their time frequently playing console video games or playing online roles [5], this will undoubtedly lead to lower school performance simply because students have much less time to do homework or recap of school matter in the afternoon or weekend. “Children playing video games spend 30% less time reading and 34% less time doing their homework than children who do not play computer games.” The most affected are the boys. Spitzer believes that their intellectual abilities are seriously threatened by video and computer games.

Criminalist Christian Pfeiffer already pointed to this danger in 2004, two years after the Erfurt school massacre [6]. He spoke about “not remembering the digital media” and warned: “One in three boys was in danger of falling into the trap of television, the internet and video games.” [7] Three years later, he even spoke of the “lost generation of young men”.

Boys are extremely vulnerable because they are increasingly playing hunters and killers games, whose effects are well known, such as increased violence, apathy for real violence, social isolation, and the danger of addiction. [8] Following the mass murder in Norway [9], US military psychologist Dave Grossman called these games with killers, “mass killing simulators” [10]. The armed Norwegian admitted that he had been training for one year untill this massacre, with the help of killer games.

Manfred Spitzer states that, unlike boys, girls spend :considerably less time than boys playing video games, and they are less inclined to play violent games, and neglect their homework due to games only half the time the boys do it.”

This different behavior in free time is reflected in the fact that girls get better school results than boys for some time. In particular, young unemployed men from poor social environments who spend the highest number of hours statistically speaking exposed to digital devices and therefore face the danger of addiction, the media does „not compensate, as they claim often, but rather reinforces existing inequalities and has anti-social rather than social effects “[11]. That is why psychiatrist Manfred Spitzer asks, “Society should reflect as soon as possible on this phenomenon, because it has not yet learned to deal with the problems arising from it, which neuroscience studies have gathered for a long time” [12].

Digital games have even more problematic effects than previously mentioned. Experimental studies and long term personality development studies show that increased use of screen devices affects empathy and social abilities of children and young people and changes the quality of relationships with family and friends: attachment to parents is diminishing and relationship with colleagues and friends is affected.

Social networks: Facebook instead of ‘face to face’

From this display of the effects of digital devices one can not miss out on the side effects of social networks that parents and educators should know and think about. Spitzer’s conclusion at the end of chapter “Social Networks: Facebook instead of face to face” should be quoted here largely because of its clarity:

“The Internet is full of unsuccessful social contacts ranging from pretending to be another person to deceive and to a serious crime. There is nothing but lies, intimidation, looting, aggressive campaigns, harassment and defamation to an unimaginable degree! Who is surprised that social networks lead primarily to loneliness and depression among young users?

Lack of self-control, loneliness and depression are the main stressors of modern society. They cause the death of nerve cells and in the long term they facilitate the development of dementia. Replacing real contacts with people with online networks can be correlated with a long term reduction in the social brain of our children. In the long run there is a risk that Facebook & co. will lead to the diminishing of our entire social brain. Seen in this light, it is extremely disturbing that about 1 billion people today are Facebook users. “

The use of digital devices at home must be minimized

In the last chapter of his book, “What to do?” Manfred Spitzer points out again – as in previous chapters – that digital devices are part of our culture, increase our productivity, simplify our lives, and are a great entertainment factor. Therefore, the debate is not about fighting or even abolishing them. But because of the serious impact they have especially on the young generation, he advises parents to reduce the use of digital media to a minimum: “Avoid digital devices. They actually make their user, as has often been shown, obese, stupid, aggressive, lonely, sick and unhappy. Limit the dose for children, because this is the only thing for which there is evidence that it has a positive effect. Every day a child has spent without digital devices is a time spent. ” He adds, “This is true of our entire society: we have nothing but the minds of the next generation when it comes to our prosperity and the preservation of our culture. Let’s prevent their systematic waste! “

With the internet world, social networking founders and game creators have been able to give our children the opportunity to isolate themselves from parental acces and gain a distinctive feature compared to adults, a space they shape according to their own rules . Because this space, this world of the Internet is potentially dangerous for the mental, spiritual and physical development of children, parents and educators should understand it so that they are equal with the children in the debate about it. And they should – because it is difficult to ban everything to today’s adolescents and because today they need to know how to use their computer to prepare for the future profession – to try to bring children into the world of the Internet in a more constructive way and more or less controlled depending their age. As for the use of social networks, boys and girls should be informed that if they reveal to the world even the least of their feelings and every part of their bodies, they will become goods. They are goods sold to the internet with which the company can make huge profits. And that’s not what we want our young people to be …

Adaptation after article “The too frequent use of digital media reduces the mental capacity of our children. Psychiatrist and brain researcher Manfred Spitzer warns parents and educators, “by Dr. Rudolf Hänsel.


Article appeared in ” Catacombele Ortodoxiei “, no. 86 / September-October 2014


[1], August 18, 2012, Manfred Spitzer: “The Internet makes you crazy.”

[2], January 31, 2012 BARMER GEK Arztreport (physician report).

[3] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung FAZ, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung FAZ, October 19, 2011, “Children’s brains need rest”. [4] See note 1.

[4] See note1.

[5] The role-playing game involves entering a virtual Internet environment in which multiple users participate simultaneously in a game where each plays a role and interacts with each other in real time

[6] On April 26, 2002, at 19-year-old Johann Gutenberg College in Erfurt, 19-year-old Robert Steinhaeuser, expelled from college, shot dead 13 teachers, 2 pupils and a cop before committing suicide.

[7], April 27, 2004, “A third of boys in danger of falling”.

[8] According to R. Hansel, the game is over! How Killer Games Manipulate Our Youth, Berlin 2011.

[9] On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old Norwegian with extreme right-wing views, committed 2 terrorist attacks on the government, civilian population, and a summer camp in the Workers’ Youth League ) in the Oslo region, killing 77 people.

[10] Personal correspondence.

[11] See note 1.

[12] See note 1.

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