“No matter what the situation, no matter what the purpose, children under the age of six should not have access to electronic screens.”
This is the serious opinion expressed by contemporary international neuroscience expert Michel Desmurget in his book “The Brainwash Factory”.
The book won the 2019 Fermienna Essay Special Award as soon as it was published, and was on the GfK non-fiction bestseller list for 28 consecutive weeks, triggering global discussion.
Regardless of how people argue about the convenience and influence brought by electronic products in the internet age, Michel Desmurget firmly insists that “these electronic devices seem to be a double-edged sword with advantages and disadvantages, but the ultimate winner is always the stupid use.”
The book starts with the characteristics of statistics and the characteristics of interview, survey, and experimental research methods, compiles all reports, experiments, articles, and other materials related to this topic, and makes a detailed summary, revealing the true impact of electronic products on children’s growth. It can be said that it is the most insightful and in-depth summary of contemporary research on electronic products.
The central idea of this book is as striking as the sentence on the cover: “Beware, human intelligence shows intergenerational decline for the first time.”
Beware of Electronic Products, They are Slow Poison!
Undeniably, the 21st century belongs to the Z era, and children born in this era are known as “digital natives.”
Electronic products and the virtual world are closely related to their growth. Recently, ChatGPT, which has overturned global cognition, has declared a revolutionary reshuffle in future careers.
Therefore, more and more voices are emerging: the “chicken baby” of the new era can no longer follow the usual path, and the learning methods of the Z generation have overturned the past. In order to adapt to the “future world,” children must be trained to operate electronic products proficiently from a young age, learn the ability to navigate the virtual world, so as not to be left behind by the era.
Therefore, the homework, online training, information queries, listening, speaking, reading, and writing of Z-generation children can all be completed on electronic products. Paperless teaching is being promoted in more and more schools. It seems convenient and easy, and diversified, but based on the physiology, Michel Desmurget reveals the cruel truth – “Perhaps there has never been such a massive ‘brain surgery’ in human history.”
1. Dazzling Information Bombardment and Lack of Nutritious Brain Sensation
Who is the biggest victim of electronic products? The answer: children under six years old.
Studies have shown that the less 3-6-year-old children follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (usage duration, content viewing, etc.), the greater the probability of their insufficient language ability, and the more abnormal the microstructure of the white matter pathways related to language, executive function, and early reading and writing abilities in the brain.
Because from birth, they are accustomed to tapping on the screen and watching various novel and shiny things pop up on the screen. When they have not formed a perception of real things and have not had enough exposure to the real world, they have already become accustomed to using electronic screens to watch, search, and play to understand everything.
Their brains do not need to run too much because the screens that can be turned on and off at any time keep attracting their attention, causing them to neglect observation and thinking, lack real interaction and communication, and immerse themselves in the virtual world unable to extricate themselves, completely changing the way the brain thinks.
In the Information Age, it may seem like there is an endless abundance of information resources, but in reality, it has cut off children’s thinking abilities.
On one side of the screen, there is an infinite amount of information hidden away. It seems so tempting, as if you could effortlessly retrieve it with a flick of the wrist. However, for the children sitting in front of the screen, what they are receiving is actually “processed food” that has been digested, recombined, and packaged by others and then fed to them. They do not need to think too much, just open their mouths and accept the feeding. Their brains have already been captured by established information and do not need to exert any effort; just lie flat and receive.
In order to grab eyeballs and occupy attention, developers of electronic products compete to create an “ideal world” by using entertainment-oriented content. However, this information that is easily obtained deprives children of their basic thinking and intelligence.
Therefore, Michel Desmurget laments in his book, “To build itself, the brain needs sensory restraint, interpersonal communication, physical activity, sleep, and beneficial cognitive nutrients, but electronic products have the opposite effect. They build a world where intellectual stimulation is long-term deficient, and sensory bombardment is excessive. Everyone is seeking their own benefit, while children are suffering from it.”
Sean Parker, the former CEO of Facebook, once described his own product as follows, “I will never use that thing, and I will not allow my children to use it either.”
In the Information Age, seemingly endless information resources are available, but they actually undermine children’s thinking ability.
In one screen, there is endless information hidden, which can be easily accessed and appears enticing. However, what children receive in front of the screen are “processed foods” that have been digested, re-synthesized, filtered, and packaged by others and then fed to them mouthful by mouthful. They don’t need to think too much, just open their mouths to accept the feed. Their brains have been captured by established information, and they don’t need to make any effort but simply accept the information.
In order to capture attention and monopolize focus, developers of electronic products create a “beautiful new world” with entertaining content, but these easily obtained information resources unknowingly deprive children of basic thinking and intelligence.
Therefore, Michelle Demaray laments in her book, “To build their brains, children need sensory restraint, social interaction, physical activity, sleep, and beneficial cognitive nutrition, but electronic products do the opposite by constructing a world of long-term intellectual stimulation deficiencies and continuous sensory bombardment. All parties are seeking their own interests, while children are suffering from them.”
Sean Parker, former president of Facebook, once described his own product, “I would never use that thing, and I won’t let my kids use it either.”
It’s not just him who strictly prohibits his beloved children from using electronic products. Steve Jobs, who created the miracle of Apple, and many tech giants in Silicon Valley who sell various “digital tools” have all shut the door to their own children’s use of electronic products.
Therefore, The New York Times calls it a “dark consensus” in Silicon Valley about electronic products and children.
Some people cannot help but ridicule this contradictory yet thought-provoking phenomenon: ordinary people allow their children to use electronic products and are pleased with their children’s proficiency, while electronic product manufacturers try every means to encourage their children to swim in the ocean of books.
Tech giants compare electronic products to “cocaine” and sincerely say, “We have seen the dangers of technology with our own eyes. I have personally experienced it, and I don’t want to see this happen to my children.”
2. Lack of “human” onsite accompaniment in education threatens the next generation’s social, language, and concentration skills.
Contemporary parents are busy with work and hope to soothe their children while promoting their cognition and learning, so using “digital babysitters” to accompany and teach their children has become the first choice for many families.
However, the difference between “video companionship” and “human onsite accompaniment” is significant, as evidenced by the results of this study.
The researchers used live demonstrations and video playback to teach a group of 12-18-month-old children specific actions with a doll after 24 hours of learning. The results showed that the children who learned through “video watching” performed worse.
According to research, the human brain responds much more sensitively to real-life interactions with people compared to indirect images of the same person in a video. Studies have shown that children can learn, understand, apply, and remember information better when a teacher is present in the classroom rather than just watching instructional videos.
In recent years, online classes have become increasingly popular, but their effectiveness is limited due to a lack of real-life interaction and communication. Information is only passively received and not stored, internalized, or outputted. It’s like being fed without chewing, digesting, and absorbing the food, resulting in malnutrition.
This phenomenon, called the “Google effect” or digital amnesia in the book “The Shallows,” occurs when people rely on taking screenshots or photos instead of actively taking notes. Although it seems like key information is being saved, in reality, it’s only being “remembered” and not “retained.”
This convenient approach makes it difficult for children to consolidate, internalize, and output knowledge, let alone establish their own knowledge system.
Despite their colorful and attractive visuals, electronic devices can prevent children from using their brains, interacting with real people, and focusing on long-term tasks that require concentration.
Numerous studies have shown that the more time children spend on electronic devices, the less they communicate with their parents. Additionally, for every hour of television watched by primary school children, their risk of developing attention deficit disorder in middle school increases by nearly 50%.
In a warning published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), it was revealed that, despite advances in technology and artificial intelligence, the Flynn effect (which saw IQ test results increase annually since the early 20th century) has not continued since the 1970s. Instead, IQ test scores have been decreasing annually.
While electronic devices and digital technology provide endless convenience, they can also hijack our lives.
According to the author of “Creating Idiots,” it is clear that if electronic technology is used improperly, such as watching videos, playing electronic games, and excessive use of social media, it can lead to behavioral disorders (aggression, depression, and dangerous behavior), intellectual deficiencies (language skills, memory, attention, etc.), and health problems (obesity, cardiovascular disease, reduced life expectancy), causing serious harm to children’s cognitive, emotional, and relational development.
3.Opening Pandora’s Box, negative entertainment activities are more likely to prevail.
Although the internet provides multiple channels for learning, for the vast majority of children, online learning has little effect on improving grades. “Creating Idiots” provides an example of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), which can be understood as our online courses:
The University of Pennsylvania in the United States once offered a MOOC course in microeconomics, which was highly attractive for online completion. At the beginning, 35,819 students signed up for the course.
However, as the course progressed, fewer and fewer students attended classes, and only 886 students (2.5%) were able to persist until the end of the course, and only 740 students (2.1%) received a paper certificate. In other words, only two out of 100 people completed the course and passed the exam.
Finally, the experiment concluded that the dropout rate of online courses is usually between 90% and 95% for courses of ordinary difficulty, and the dropout rate for higher difficulty can even exceed 99%.
Do not trust children’s self-control, because even adults find it difficult to self-discipline. When we provide electronic products for children under the guise of learning, we are actually opening Pandora’s Box for them, full of temptations not only of interesting teaching videos but also of dazzling games, videos, and social networks that can easily capture their attention. Useless entertainment functions will soon outweigh beneficial educational functions.
A large body of research indicates that when children or adolescents use electronic products (computers, tablets, smartphones, etc.), negative entertainment activities almost always prevail, overwhelming other positive activities.
One Laptop per Child, a famous international project that aimed to provide low-cost laptops (later switched to tablets) for impoverished children, was launched with the hope of positively impacting their learning abilities and intelligence. However, the project ultimately proved to be a disappointment. After multiple research and evaluation attempts, the promoters were forced to admit that this costly project was futile in enhancing children’s learning and cognitive abilities.
For instance, in Catalonia, the project had a negative impact on students’ performance in all subjects. Their test scores decreased by 0.20-0.22 standard deviations, accounting for 3.8%-6.2% of the average test score.
On the other hand, recent sociological studies have found that families with academically successful students have one consistent feature: strict limitations on their children’s use of digital entertainment products while emphasizing more proactive extracurricular activities such as doing homework, reading, playing instruments, and participating in sports.
As many children access electronic products in the name of learning, as many children fall into decadence after playing games and lose themselves after getting addicted to social media. Electronic products, wrapped in a sugar-coated shell, harbor lurking monsters underneath the versatile screens. If manipulated or consumed, they will become the “drug addiction” of the new era, destroying children’s academic and mental health.
The double-edged sword of electronics: wield it properly, and the sword will not hurt its wielder
At this point, you may feel concerned and unable to resist asking: In the era of network information, the use of electronic products is inevitable. How can we wield this double-edged sword effectively without hurting ourselves?
In response, Michelle Demers, in her book, also proposes seven basic rules:
For children aged six and under, use electronic products as little as possible. Playing, chatting, and reading with parents are the most effective learning methods.
After the age of six, there are six main guidelines to follow:
1. Limit daily screen time to no more than 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Strictly control electronic screen time, with a maximum daily usage of 30 minutes before the age of 12 and 60 minutes after the age of 12.
2. Do not allow electronic devices in the bedroom.
The bedroom is a place where children are prone to spend more time using electronic devices, which can harm their sleep quality and make it easier for them to access inappropriate content without parental supervision. Cases of addicted children secretly waking up at night to play games or watch videos are not uncommon.
3. Do not access inappropriate content.
Children not only lack self-control but also the ability to distinguish right from wrong. Therefore, parents must strictly supervise the usage of electronic devices to prevent children from unintentionally or intentionally accessing inappropriate content and going down the wrong path.
4. Do not use electronic devices before school in the morning.
Many parents let their children listen to audio or watch educational videos while eating breakfast to save time. However, sustained exposure to “stimulating” content not only distracts attention and impairs cognitive function but also affects normal nutrient absorption from food. Allowing children to daydream, eat breakfast quietly, and chat with their parents in a peaceful environment is more conducive to improving their experience and happiness in life.
5. Do not use electronic devices before bedtime.
Stimuli from sound and light in the evening can shorten sleep time and affect sleep quality. Turning off all electronic devices 1.5 hours before bedtime has greater benefits for physical and mental health.
6. Use electronic devices one at a time.
Children’s focus is not “undeveloped” but rather “disrupted.” The brain that processes multiple tasks on different channels for a long time is less efficient as the frequency of distraction increases. Listening to stories, eating meals, and chatting with others should be done with full attention. The less utilitarian parents are, the more effective each activity can be.
These guidelines may seem simple, but they are challenging to follow. Parents who want to enjoy the benefits of electronic devices must take on the corresponding responsibility of supervision.
In addition, there is an important piece of advice that is not mentioned in the article but is crucial:
If parents want their children to avoid addiction to electronic devices, they must lead by example. For example, parents should give up the habit of browsing social media, shopping online, watching short videos, and playing games before bedtime.
Can you do it?