'Constant use of touch-screen devices poses serious risks to youth'

Rambam Medical Center experts worry that mobile devices poses threats to welfare of young people, threatening to affect them physically, emotionally, cognitively and developmentally.

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August 26, 2013 18:14
2 minute read.
Rambam Medical Center experts worry that the mobile devices pose serious threats

iphone mobile device ipad technology 370. (photo credit: Edward Kaprov)

While people of all ages seem unable to live without a touchscreen device – smartphone, tablet or i-Pad and all the rest – Rambam Medical Center experts worry that the mobile devices pose serious threats, especially to young people.

Recent surveys have shown that as the use of the interactive devices spreads even to kindergarten children – with a third of those aged six to nine having their own cellphone – touchscreen devices threaten to affect them physically, emotionally, cognitively and developmentally.

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Prof. Naim Shehadeh, director of the pediatrics A department at Rambam and the juvenile diabetes and obesity clinic, said this week that tablets can lead to serious overweight in children.

“A fat child is very likely to turn into a fat adult, with all the risks of diabetes, hypertension, high cardiac risk and more. The causes include the lack of physical activity.

I don’t exaggerate when I say that the most common physical activity in young people today is moving their fingers on the touch screen of a computerized device, which is why the current crop of young people is called ‘the Touch Generation.’ Even when they go out, they are usually busy with their touch screens. There is no doubt that the Touch Generation is a significant high-risk group for the development of overweight at a young age,” said Shehadeh.

Besides the fact that the brains of very young children, with thin skulls, could be affected by electromagnetic radiation from cellphones held close to their heads, there are many other risks not connected directly to physiological health, said Amisar.

Dr. Dana Amisar, an expert in child and adolescent psychiatry and head of children’s psychiatry at the Haifa hospital, said that there are also psychological implications.

Children are increasingly exposed to the world not by experiences but to a virtual world via the screen.

“Their attention used to be dependent on what happened directly in their environment at a certain time. But now, she said, their attention is captured by the screen. They have less direct connection with friends and more virtually, giving the impression that they are ‘connected’ and are in contact. But in fact, many children see their friends less and less, and whole relationships begin, carry on and end virtually.”

The average touch-screen user receives some 150 messages and SMSs per day while they are doing other things. At any given moment, the user must divide his attention among all these “events,” said Amisar, and each activity cuts off the previous one. This reduces the quality of their attention and reduces their freedom of choice.

They become dependent on the devices and can’t manage without, the psychiatrist continued.

The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists “Internet addiction” as a new diagnosis and notes the need for more research.

Such addiction, said Amisar, can cause users to forgo social ties or daily tasks, reduce their ability to reach satisfaction, and lead to the inability to stop using computers and smartphones and using the Internet to try to improve their mood or escape from reality.

Researchers around the world who collect data say the phenomenon is quickly becoming a syndrome like other addictions.


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