Helping kids exercise their memory muscle

Our kids are growing up in a serious technology age. It seems our phones, electronic schedules and other gadgets keep track of every number, date and statistic we’ll ever need. Our kids just don’t have to exercise their memory muscles the way we did. Will this hurt them in the long run? What can we do to combat a lack of memory?


Because our kids aren’t required to use their memory muscles the way we did, could they be at a disadvantage? Possibly, but parents can play a big role in ensuring their kids are exercising their memory muscles to combat any negative impact from excessive technology exposure.

The technology age

Technology has a split personality. On one hand, it’s made life so much easier but on the other, it brings with it a whole host of modern problems. “The wealth of information we have at our fingertips is creating a poverty of thought,” says Dr. Sandra Bond Chapman, founder and chief director of the Center for BrainHealth. “The lure of technology is rewiring our brains in detrimental ways leading to weakened focus, shallower thinking, reduced creativity and forward thinking and a lowered ability to shut out irrelevant information – all decreasing our brain’s potential.”

Still, technology is not all bad. “In fact, it can actually help develop memory as students begin to view the mind as a filing cabinets and need to remember where to retrieve certain information which helps them use technology,” says Ben Shifrin, a member of the Executive Board of Directors of the International Dyslexia Association and Head of the Jemicy School outside of Baltimore.

Turn it off

Whatever side of the debate you lean towards, it makes sense to be proactive about our kids’ memory skills (and our own, for that matter!). “To maintain your brain health, shut off your cell phone, turn off the computer and limit your use of technology to certain hours of the day,” suggests Dr. Chapman. “Make sure to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three to four times a week and engage in meaningful conversations.” The brain is a wondrous thing, isn’t it? It seems no matter how much techie noise we throw at it, you can still nurture its ability to develop with just a little love.

Get your ZZZZZZ’s

Sometimes it can be tough for our kids to sleep given all of the stimuli that bombards them on a daily basis. Encourage them to make a conscious effort to unwind and prepare for sleep every night to ensure sufficient rest. “Sleep plays a huge role in memory retention,” says Shifrin. “The brain is a muscle and it needs time to rest and relax – sleep gives the brain this opportunity.” Of course, parents rarely get enough sleep as well so make an effort to model this behavior.

Practical tips

Dr. Chapman provides the following tips to help children improve cognitive function:

  • Train selective attention in children (i.e. both the ability to focus on one object/voice/thought and to ignore or suppress non-attended, competing inputs).
  • Spark curiosity and an inquisitive mind by having them create novel endings to books and movies they read and see.
  • Learn how to engage in conversation that is not simply question and answer as it shuts down youths’ talking and thinking. Teens feel tested and challenged with rapid-fire questions.
  • Give children/teens a small number of choices, and provide opportunities for them to think critically, weighing each option.
  • Limit the amount of time your child spends on technology — online social networking and playing video games.

More on kids and technology

Kids and technology: Age-appropriate guide
Travel with kids: Take technology?
Is 3-D okay for your kids?

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