85% of children 10 years old and younger have access to the internet and one in four has their own smartphone. They are data of a recent INE survey that reveal a resounding and novel reality: childhood is also hyperconnected. What do parents do in this scenario? According to a report on the impact of screens on family life elaborated by the digital education platform Empantallados, one in four avoids setting standards on the use of screens at home. The report, derived from a survey of more than 1,400 fathers and mothers with children under the age of 18, presents similar results to the more modest study that recently presented the educational platform Lingokids: According to them, three out of ten families do not use parental control systems.
That, in the eyes of experts, is not the right thing to do. Parents, they say, must play an active role in the digital education of their children so that they learn to make responsible use of technology. After all, the internet implies considerable risks for minors and it is their parents who must have control of what they do on the Internet.
Despite this, or precisely for this reason, 60% of the parents affirmed Empantallados that he missed more training to be able to adequately educate his children in the digital environment. Even more if we take into account that the first mobile arrives every time before, although the average age appropriate for that to happen, according to the same survey, is 13 years.
Pía García, responsible for communication of this platform, offers four recommendations that she considers fundamental to face this challenge: "Parents have to be up to date on how their children use technology. It is advisable to create a family digital plan, with rules on the times of use of screens at home, the spaces enabled for this … They also have to go ahead and know the operation of the devices they use. But, above all, they must establish a recurrent dialogue with their children. "
Concerning this last point, García remembers the story of a father who felt very calm about how the screens were handled in his house because he had an application with which he cut the wifi after a certain time and so his son did not spend too much time. connected time Meanwhile, the boy changed the time of the device and could access the internet indefinitely. "Trust is the first step to finding balance," he says.
- Overexposure and loss of sleep
From the mobile to the tablet and from there to the computer through television. Households are gaining weight as emitters of digital stimuli in an overexposure that can end up leading to attention deficits at best. To avoid this, the child and youth psychologist Abel Domínguez recommends limiting children's access to screens. "It is not advisable to spend more than two or three hours a day of leisure," he says.
Domínguez is not the only one who bets on this figure; they support different scientific studies. A group of researchers from the University of Ottawa analyzed the performance of 4,500 children between 8 and 11 years old and he was surprised to find that the time devoted to the devices was the variable that had a more direct relationship with his intellectual maturation. "More than two hours a day of recreational time with screens are associated with worse cognitive development in children," they explained.
A recent survey by the Reina Sofía Center concluded that practically half of young people between 14 and 24 years old lose hours of sleep by spending too much time on social networks. Another study, from the University of London, found that, for every hour children spend in front of a screen, they sleep 26 fewer minutes each night.
- Digital tools that stimulate creativity
The headaches that parents have with the use of devices in the home are not restricted to the time their children spend in the virtual environment. One of their main concerns is the content they access.
There is no doubt, says the expert on trends and innovation Gustavo Entrala, that the internet plays a fundamental role in society and that it is as complicated as it is unnecessary to isolate minors from electronic devices, especially after a certain age . Its benefits are undeniable and they tip the scales in their favor.
That we do not understand technology is just an excuse to not face a real problem
Marcos Gómez, deputy director of operations of the National Cybersecurity Institute
This consultant and consultant expends optimism when considering that we are facing a generation of superheroes able to take advantage of digital tools to exploit their creativity and learn to defend themselves in a complex world in which companies will lose weight when it comes to shaping their future work. On the Internet, children have access to all kinds of learning sources, they can solve their doubts and help themselves to develop as people. "It's a bad time to be a helicopter father, it's not convenient to be overprotective," he warns.
Absolute freedom, however, is not an option. Charo Sádaba, dean of the Faculty of Communication of the University of Navarra, stresses the importance of establishing limits on the use made by minors of the Network, since they face all kinds of threats in it. "When we get the children to a playground, we know it's a space designed for them to have a good time and be safe," he says. "The Internet is not that place."
The deputy director of operations of the National Cybersecurity Institute (Incibe), Marcos Gómez, agrees that the risks of leaving children to their fate in the digital world are big enough to underestimate them. "That we do not understand technology or give us fear are just excuses for not facing a real problem: parents have to worry about the safety of their children on the internet", Categorical sentence. "In virtual environments, the bad guys have no face and we have to be cautious."
- Cyberbullying multiplies
"Minors use technology intuitively, but that does not mean they can use it. They know how to play buttons, pass screens and access digital spaces, but they are not prepared to make a critical and responsible use if we have not taught them, "says Cristina Gutiérrez, of the Internet team Segura For Kids, an initiative of the Incibe to sensitize and advise parents and children so that they can take advantage of the advantages offered by new technologies without taking any risk.
Gutiérrez regrets that, in many cases, families underestimate the dangers faced by minors on the Internet that, under a feeling of anonymity, they act as if nothing they do on the Net could have consequences in their lives offline. And anything farter from the reality. "Children can access inappropriate content of violence, accidents or sex that can overwhelm them and not understand well," he observes. "They can create erroneous models because of advertising that is not clearly defined and access addictive content that affects the brain, such as betting games."
Not to mention problems related to your privacy. Practices like grooming -Adults who pretend to be minors for the purposes of sexual blackmail- and cyberbullying they have multiplied by four in the last decade, according to a study on the evolution of violence against children in Spain carried out by the ANAR Foundation. These risks are what most concern parents, according to a survey of more than two thousand families prepared by the security and digital wellness platform Qustodio, followed by the access that their children can have to pornographic content.
In this sense, As a result, the concern for the sexting, whereby young people share intimate photographs with friends or couples that can also lead to cyber-cyber or cyberbullying relationships. "Relationships last for as long as they last, but when they end, they can trigger revenge porn practices, which has to do with using these images and videos uploaded to not only humiliate this person, but get benefits by selling these contents to third parties ", Explains the expert.
A common mistake is to understand that technology is something that minors and adults must use separately. "It has to be part of our conversations. Parents have to get involved and make their children see that they must make responsible use of technology. Nobody is allowed to drive a car on their own without having undergone a supervised apprenticeship for which they obtain their license, "he reasons.
- Sign a contract of use with the children
For this, it is convenient that there are some rules. For the first mobile, Gutiérrez recalls a practice that is usually accompanied by good results: signing a contract of use with the child. "Draft a mutual agreement with him on when he can use his mobile phone, how long, where he can do it … In this way, he becomes aware of what he has in hand and learns to be responsible, "he says. "As our son grows, this covenant is revised. The older and more responsible, it gains autonomy. This way he can demonstrate that he uses technology in a critical and balanced way ".
More than two hours of recreational time with electronic devices is associated with worse cognitive development in children
The technique calls for active supervision and continuous monitoring, which should be more intense in the early stages. Start, for example, by letting our children use devices without an internet connection so that, as they grow, they can grant them certain levels of access through parental control. "We must devote time to understand the technical specifications of our devices and know their functionalities: knowing how to activate and deactivate the webcam, geolocation …", summarizes.
Domínguez stresses the need for parents to catch up with the parental control systems offered by new technologies, from the one in each device to the ones that integrate the different browsers. "It is advisable to create a specific profile for them, where we can block access to web pages through certain keywords that involve violence, sex and other harmful content. There are also platforms, such as Youtube Kids, that guarantee that advertising and suggested videos are aimed at minors"He says. "We can not lose sight of the fact that they are young people looking out at the infinite window that is the Internet".
At this point, it is inevitable to ask the following question: what about the privacy of minors? There is no doubt that excessive control can arouse their misgivings and jeopardize their trust, a fundamental factor in this process. Although he insists that each case is a world, Domínguez believes that the solution lies in finding the balance between dialogue and concern for his safety. "Some parents feel violent about registering their children's whatsapp and others try it until very late. An intermediate option would be to ask sporadically the phone and review it in front of them, "he proposes.
- Parents do not always set a good example
"We have to create moments of digital detox in which we leave the screens aside to face us without digital distractions," advises Maria Zalbidea, trend expert at C4E Consulting Services. "Technology at home can not catch us in mode off"
The family regulation of the use of screens is, therefore, essential to encourage healthy use of technology in the home. But children are not the only ones who must abide by the regulations. "If the parents are engaged in answering messages during a family meal or they start reading contents on their tablet and do not pay attention to them, they offer a very negative communication model," Domínguez warns. "Then they will not be able to complain if their children do the same: it's the example they're receiving."