Gone are the days when children played in the street.
The hours were spent playing ball, riding a bicycle, playing catch. Fun came at the back of the imagination, without great expense or need for parental supervision. But times have changed.
Today, with a natural and increasingly inevitable presence, new technologies pose new challenges to parents and educators. Understanding what it is to be a child in today's Western societies requires a deep understanding of their relationship with new technologies and the technological mediation of socialization, leisure, communication and learning experiences. Talking with friends, occupying free time and studying are activities that seem to depend more and more on access to technology. Whether as a social or educational tool, its relevance is also reflected in the investment that families make to access the Internet.
What is the right measure so that its use does not become harmful? And is it only harmful to children?
The excess of this use is harmful to anyone, but in children and adolescents the effects can be even more harmful and, therefore, this is a topic that raises many questions, especially the consequences of this premature presentation. Parents and guardians need to pay attention to limits and care when using technologies.
How is the healthy introduction of technologies into a child's life possible? When is it too soon?
The recommendations for exposing children to all types of media (television, games, internet, mobile phone, etc.) are:
– 2 years: only after 2 years of age should children begin to have contact with these devices;
– 5 years: up to 5 years, children should only use a maximum of 1 hour;
– 6 to 12 years: at these ages the time increases to 2 hours;
– 13 years: from 13 years of age the time increases to 3 hours.
We must not forget that new technologies can also be excellent allies in the child's development, as long as access to electronic devices is consciously mediated by the parents, as there are some precautions to be taken into account in order not to disturb the child development.
It is essential to distinguish what are the advantages and disadvantages of electronic devices and how to teach children to turn them off.
1. Development and control of motor skills
Contact with keyboards, console controls or smartphone or tablet screens allow children to develop and control their motor skills. This makes them more skilled while exercising healthy bones and joints.
2. Promotion of communication and interaction
As children develop their language skills, the need to socialize grows. New technologies thus support the development of close social relationships. They serve to meet new friends, something that children appreciate, establishing wider communication networks.
However, vigilance and a sense of responsibility on the part of parents are advised.
3. Accessibility that generates knowledge
The fact that new technologies are more present and intuitive has a direct influence on the acquisition and expansion of knowledge. This can happen via the Internet, audiovisual presentations or educational programs that accompany textbooks.
4. Improved cognitive functions
The interactivity of new technologies creates new challenges. There are programs that encourage discovery of writing, reading and math. This elevates the child's skills and promotes ability and involvement in their own learning.
5. Possibility of conscious entertainment
New technologies are synonymous of fun. Furthermore, interaction with some applications and games establishes cause-effect, logic, problem solving and action-reaction relationships.
There are some problems associated with overuse of new technologies. Some children spend more than six hours a day in front of a screen. Dependence on new technologies should be avoided, as their indiscriminate use can destroy the affective bond between family members.
If you are a parent or educator, be aware:
1. Sedentary lifestyle
There are children who allow themselves to be so involved by new technologies that they leave aside activities such as contact with nature and/or physical activity.
Some investigations indicate that this scenario can enhance future cases of obesity.
2. Simulated realisation
The virtual environment can favor a sense of simulated achievement, from which the child can draw particular, but not real, comfort. It is necessary to confront the child with reality in order to understand these differences.
3. Emotional disorders
Some investigations report that the excessive use of new technologies can cause emotional and developmental problems. As a result, there are more and more children with symptoms of depression, anxiety or ADHD. Being a victim of cyberbullying can be another added problem.
4. Brake to sociability
The anonymity and sense of power that technology provides can hinder communication with the world. This can impair sociability and the ability to relate to others and the real world, falling into constant isolation.
5. Social and financial pressure
Even though it is increasingly affordable, the acquisition of gadgets requires financial effort. In an attempt to feel integrated and have consoles, smartphones or other equipment, children tend to "demand" their parents efforts, sometimes unbearable.
Strategies for a healthy digital diet:
- Establish a set of rules
Call a family meeting to establish rules about the use of the devices. It is essential to involve children in the decision by asking them for suggestions. This will hold them accountable to fulfill the agreement they helped create.
- Social networks
Social networks are one of the main forms of socialization on the internet, spaces where personal information is shared and, therefore, must be closely controlled. It is important that parents are aware of what their children are posting: it should help them understand what they should and shouldn't share and which people they should have in their network of friends, as well as what kind of pages they should follow.
- Analyze and record activities
Compare the time each family member spends online and in group activities. This will help you notice habits to change and set goals in terms of family bonding and communication.
- Formalize a family "contract"
Once the rules are defined, devise a “contract” that will be signed by the whole family. The notion of commitment is fundamental to achieving good results.
- Organize tech-free events
Set weekly events where new technologies are left out. During this time, for example, board games or meetings on a topic to be agreed upon can enter. This type of action promotes family and social relationships.
- Opt for verbal communication
Whenever possible, avoid communicating with your child via text messages or emojis, relying on verbalization. If they are in the same space, the use of mobile phones is prohibited.
- Take a vacation from technology
- Alert for ear protection
Being connected implies the involvement of several senses. Many children spend a few hours of the day with headphones, and if the volume is not adequate, it can affect their hearing, an irreversible risk. According to the World Health Organization, due to unsafe listening from some devices, more than a billion young people are at risk of becoming deaf.
- No to cyberbullying
Whether they are witnesses or victims, children must understand that derogatory phrases, inappropriate content or criticism of others must not be allowed. Encouraging them to say if they encounter any such situation will be critical to both their protection and that of other young people.
The education of little ones must be born from fluid communication between parents and children, always applying common sense and trusting them, showing them that they too can trust their parents.
Offering all available information and explaining the benefits and risks of new technologies will make them learn to understand from an early age what the best practices are in each case.
It is also important to be aware that children should not be encouraged to use the equipment ahead of time. The ideal is to let them show interest themselves and then parents can show them how to use the devices correctly.