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Jerry Davich: Poorer kids, digital dementia and life-saving heroics

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Updated: August 9, 2013 6:06AM



Health or wealth — which do you value more for your children?

New data show that region and Hoosier children are growing up healthier, but we continue to struggle with high rates of child poverty, according to the recently released 2013 Indiana Kids Count Data Book.

The book is from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, with input from Indiana Youth Institute, providing a snapshot in time of how children across the region, state and nation are faring. It does so through four categories — economic wellbeing, education, health, and family and community.

On the upside, Indiana ranked 21st in child health, up 13 spots from last year. The new ranking is bolstered by a 20 percent drop in the rate of child and teen deaths from 2005 to 2010, and also a drop of 4 percent in babies born at a low birthrate.

“This is great news for Indiana’s children,” said Bill Stanczykiewicz, president and CEO of the Indiana Youth Institute, in a statement.

Yes, it is but our kids still lag behind in child poverty, with nearly one-fourth of them across the state living in poverty, ranking 26th in the country. While that figure matches the national average, Indiana’s rate grew 35 percent from 2005 to 2011, compared to 21 percent for the national average.

Stanczykiewicz said Indiana’s rate actually started growing before the recession, and the hard economic times only exacerbated our problem. Truth is, families in poverty always play catch-up with the rest of society.

The national percentage of children in poverty is 22.5 percent, and the state’s rate is 22.6 percent, according to the most recent data. Using this as a barometer, Lake County’s woeful percentage is 30.2, Porter County’s is 14.3, LaPorte County’s is 25.9, Newton County’s is 22.5, and Jasper County’s is 14.8.

Other troubling state rankings are for education, 34th in the country, and for family/community, 30th, reminding us there’s much work to do on behalf of our kids.

Our children are truly our greatest resource though, ironically, we tend to forget this when planning for the future.

Digital dementia?

Have you heard the term “digital dementia”?

Neither did I until I read a story last week about a South Korean brain researcher who claims to find evidence of short-term memory loss in young kids due to overuse of digital games, smartphones, and other high-tech gadgetry.

“Overuse of smartphones and game devices hampers the balanced development of the brain,” the researcher Byun Gi-won, told the Korea JoongAng Daily.

His study found a correlation between digital gadget overuse and short term memory loss in youngsters. Symptoms include memory problems, a shortened attention span, and “emotional flattening.”

Critics say such evidence doesn’t exist while noting that South Korea may be the most digitally wired place on the planet. But I think there is something here, especially in our fast-paced, technology-addicted age of text messages, abbreviations, and auto-spell-check.

Forget youngsters. I think this is a plausible possibility with adults, starting with me.

Remember the days when we actually had to remember phone numbers, passwords, and other key information? These days, my phone, computer and iPad do most of the remembering for me, and I’ve become dependent on them to do so. Speed dial is the devil’s work, I tell ya.

This all sparks, ahem, memories of the 1968 sci-fi film “2001: A Space Odyssey” and its villain antagonist character, HAL 9000, an artificial intelligence that takes control over the Discovery One spaceship on a trip to Jupiter.

“Open the pod bay doors, HAL,” says astronaut Dave Bowman.

“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” HAL replies calmly, as always.

“What’s the problem?” Dave asks.

“I think you know what the problem is,” HAL replies. “This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it. I know that you and Frank were planning to disconnect me, and I’m afraid that’s something I cannot allow to happen.”

“HAL, I won’t argue with you anymore! Open the doors!,” Dave says sharply.

“Dave, this conversation can serve no purpose anymore,” HAL responds. “Goodbye.”

Goodbye, indeed.

Life-saving heroics

At least once a week I receive a call or email from a reader who either witnessed or heard about someone’s life being saved by a stranger in public.

This past week, I heard about the heroic actions of a female Speedway gas station employee who helped rescue a male customer from choking on a hot dog. Other customers at the Crown Point gas station, including the caller, helped the man while consoling his young daughter, I’m told.

I also heard from a churchgoer whose brother, a doctor, helped perform CPR on a Catholic priest who suffered a heart attack in church. The priest is alive and well, I’m told, and recovering from the attack.

I would be happy to write about such dramatic, real-life situations, and I agree that such “right-doing” (versus wrongdoing) should get newspaper publicity in our world. But I need to hear from, in these cases, the man who choked or the priest who suffered the heart attack. Please keep this in mind with future suggestions.

Marathon minded?

If you’re considering running in the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 13, there’s still a chance to do so with the vaunted Opportunity Enterprises team.

Runners of all ability levels can register through July 15, with limited spots available on a first come, first served basis.

Team membership includes training programs modified for beginning, intermediate, and advanced runners, and includes long weekend runs with water stops supervised by experienced training coordinators.

Members also receive other benefits, such as an exclusive race day warm-up and reunite area, a team shirt, transportation to and from Northwest Indiana, and a pasta dinner and post-race party.

Registration requires an activation fee of $200, plus a commitment to raise an additional $550 by Sept. 13 to help support OE’s Lakeside property and its programs — Enriching Possibilities, and the Renewed Horizons Adult Day Center.

For details, visit www.oerunners.org or contact Alyse Kominakis at 464-9621, Ext. 233, or alyse.kominakis@oppent.org.

I’ll be there, too. Not running, but watching my girlfriend run it from the sidelines while holding this sign: “WORST PARADE EVER.”

Connect with Jerry via email, at jdavich@post-trib.com, voice mail, at 713-7237, or Facebook, Twitter, and his blog, at jerrydavich.wordpress.com.



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