A few Saturdays ago, while we were waiting for our food to be served in a restaurant, my sister put her smartphone on the table, in front of my young son, and started playing a video that she had previously shown to my oldest daughter. It was not a movie, not a chapter of Paw Patrol, just a personal video of just a couple of minutes. Despite this, that screen standing on the table, leaning on a glass, caused me a discomfort that is difficult to explain, perhaps because I have had tattooed in my mind for a long time what Elvira Lindo wrote in an old column, Bogged down family, published in this same newspaper.
Screens have colonized our lives. Every day more. They are at every meal: photographing dishes, making selfies of diners, Googling the name of an actor or a series that we do not remember right now or as entertainment child extinguisher. They are in our conversations in parks and gardens, while we walk, while we collect the house, while we walk and interact with our children, while we train in the gym, on our bedside table, while we sleep. We look at our screens more than 100 times a day! No matter how much one is aware, it is very difficult to escape them, not to suddenly find oneself half listening to what a child tells them while at the same time answering an email or responding to a notification that they are not in a hurry; not finding yourself walking to school with a child in one hand and the mobile screen in the other, answering a WhatsApp message or reading a piece of news that has no more urgency than what we want to give you.
Several picture books aimed at children have already addressed this overuse of screens in recent years. It is, for example, Look-catcher (Kalandraka, 2020), by Marina Núñez and Avi Ofer, starring a girl determined to catch the gaze of the people she crosses paths with (and with whom she coexists), a Herculean task because she has the all-powerful screens in front of her. “If the grown-ups do not observe or enjoy the most wonderful things, how can I get them to look at me?” Asks little Vera. Also another more recent title, The zampa screens (Maeva Young, 2021), by Helen and Thomas Docherty, a fable in which Zampa, its particular protagonist, tired of being seen by no one, decides to start eating screens, to the bewilderment of the animals that live in the city: «Without screens, what are we going to do all day? ».
Then we are surprised by the attraction that the screens generate in our sons and daughters. My young son, at five years old, still lives quite oblivious to them. The oldest, 8 years old, looks for the slightest excuse to interact with ours. At the beginning of the course I was surprised (scandalized) to see her play in the park with the old (and useless) mobiles that some classmates contributed. It was a symbolic game. They played at being older. Before being older was having a car. A house, even. Now, real estate and microchip crisis through, being older, for our children, is having a mobile phone and a screen. How can they believe otherwise if they see us 24 hours a day 365 days a year glued to a screen? How could they not be attracted to mobile phones if, looking at us, their references, it seems that everything that is needed in this world can be found on a screen of just 6.5 inches?
In the study Impact of technology on adolescence: relationships, risks and opportunities, recently published by Unicef and prepared based on a sample of 41,509 adolescents between 11 and 18 years old, there is a series of data that inevitably invite reflection: for example, that the average age at which children receive their first mobile is less than 11 years old (10.96), that 6 out of 10 minors sleep with their mobile, that 4 out of 10 are online so as not to feel alone or that almost 6 out of 10 use mobile phones and other tools that offer access to the Internet to make friends.
Beyond the risks that this hyperconnection entails and that the report also reveals, derived above all from the lack of parental supervision (only 29.1% of the minors surveyed acknowledged that their parents put some kind of norms or limits on the use of the Internet and / or screens), the last two data are striking that, not by chance, I have highlighted in the previous paragraph. Still in some movie theaters and soon, I suppose, on one of the multiple streaming video platforms, there is a highly recommended movie to watch as a family: Ron gives an error. Directed by six hands by Sarah Smith, Jean-Philippe Vine and Octavio E. Rodríguez, this British animated film takes our technological delusion one step further, to a world in which children no longer have a smartphone, but a robot that, In addition to being your best friend, it acts as a smartphone, bringing together all your social networks and, of course, all the information about your tastes and interests for the happiness of companies and brands.
What fascinates about Ron is wrong is the loneliness – disguised as socialization – that one appreciates in the boys and girls around the protagonist, Barney, an 11-year-old boy who does not have a robot and who, therefore, is excluded from any possibility of relating to their peers. Also how the algorithms that handle the robots determine, based on all the data collected from the minors, with whom they can and cannot relate, reducing their world to limits that are an absolute contradiction with the initial idea that they sold us. from Internet.
“Of course there are great, great problems around the use of technology by children, adolescents, adults, family and society. But if we only put our hands to our heads, if we propose that there is a version off and another on of people, we will fall short. We need parents of the digital age to feel more legitimacy and security in their decisions, not to feel judged and evaluated for every minute of the screen they decide to open or close at home. And we need to add to the discourse of dangers another that has to do with closeness. With a family conversation that, even if it takes place in a WhatsApp chat, adds value ”, stated in a recent interview María Zabala, journalist expert in technology and author of Being parents in the digital age (Editorial platform).
I have followed María Zabala for a long time because she is one of the most rational voices around the (of course, polarized) debate around the use of screens and technology in the family environment. I believe, like her, that, “in addition to taking into account all the good or bad that the digital society supposes for children and adolescents”, as adults we have to start taking into account everything that we can do (or not do) with that same technology: “Not only to give the power of influence to the screens, but also and especially to the people who use them.” In other words, technology and screens are not bad per se, but rather that we (encouraged by their power of addiction, we are not going to deny it) are the ones who misuse them.
Those who, like me, listen to their children half way too often to answer emails that come in at odd hours, we have time to change things, to regain habits, to pay attention to those around us, to look up from the screen when this is not essential. As the lyrics of the song of one of the advertisements called to mark Christmas 2021 show, it is time to “see ourselves better.”
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