Internet access should expand children’s world, not limit it


Technological devices have been integrated into our daily lives to such an extent that some call them “Trojan horses of the 21st century.” Mobile phones, computers and tablets are part of the daily routine of children, adolescents, young people and adults. These devices have been progressively installed and surround us in a dense network that demands our constant attention and conditions interpersonal communication.

The digital self coexists in our mind alongside the analog self. We live in a world colonized by screens that seduce us and introduce us to a virtual reality. This raises the question: can we coexist with two identities?

At the same time, participating in this digital world seems to build an increasingly higher wall with the physical world, generating distance and disagreement with others.

Connectivity and isolation

Interpersonal relationships over the Internet have an impact on our behavior: how we look, feel and communicate. Furthermore, the compulsive desire for the digital world negatively affects the language development of children.

Despite this, the majority of parents continue to give their children the power to use electronic devices, be it a mobile phone, a tablet or a game console.

In Spain, the use of ICT in homes with children is increasingly widespread and data indicates that internet connection is practically universal.

Paradoxically, while some children have “too much” access to the Internet at very young ages, there are also millions of children who are not benefiting from the advantages of the Internet .

For example, in Latin America, these digital transformation processes are generated in a context of historical and structural inequality. Digital divides also reflect prevailing economic divides, amplifying the advantages of children from wealthier backgrounds and failing to offer opportunities to poorer and more disadvantaged children.

Internet access at home in Latin America. Red Kids Online Latin America subscribed by ECLAC and the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

What is clear is that connecting to the Internet changes childhood and that young people (15 to 24 years old) are the most connected age group. Worldwide, 71% are online, compared to 48% of the total population. Children and adolescents under 18 years of age represent approximately one in three internet users worldwide.

Internet use, evolution. Red Kids Online Latin America subscribed by ECLAC and the Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Key moment of development

We humans expand our scope of interaction progressively: babies begin to open up and become interested in what is happening around them between the sixth month and first year of life. At this moment, the relationship they have established with their parents and emotional references allows them to begin to integrate the other person in their mind as if they were an internal subject, with whom they can share their experiences.

This is when “ joint action ” emerges: the ability to coordinate attention with another person in relation to an object or situation. This skill allows the baby to follow the direction initiated by another person’s gaze, a turn of the head, or a finger gesture. These behaviors in the little ones will be crucial for the development of social communication.

This process is being affected by the increase in minors connected online, which is occurring in all countries of the world . Although the World Health Organization prohibits exposure to screens before the age of 2 , there are reasonable doubts about whether parents are aware of the risks involved in the continued use of so-called “digital pacifiers.” Recent UNICEF studies alert us to the silenced violence that millions of boys and girls receive through these devices around the world.

Social environment and language development

From the perspective of Lev Vygotsky ‘s constructivist psychology , the individual development of a human being cannot be understood without considering the social environment. An apprentice is a being inserted in a social context, not isolated from the community.

How do we currently imagine the technological impact on the mental development of a 21st century learner? And what happens with these consolidated theories in the development of the mind and intellect?

The psychiatrist and neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer , dedicated to the study of the brain, has been warning about the risks of new technologies for years. In South Korea, for example, 12% of all schoolchildren were found to be “addicted to the Internet” in 2010. In this country, 13 years ago the term “digital dementia” emerged to refer to the consequences that may occur in the brain due to the use of technological means because it is like any other muscle: if it is used, it grows, if not, it atrophies.

In the same sense, numerous investigations by experts have an impact, warning about the potential risks in neurodevelopment and learning problems associated with the misuse of technologies . And one of the most common disorders that technosocial networks can generate is language disorder, with all its implications.

Contributions of neuroscience

Neurosciences have contributed significantly to the study of pathology in the area of ​​language . His research has clarified and defined the mechanisms involved in cognitive and linguistic functions. From them we know that language is a higher function of the brain whose development is based, on the one hand, on a genetically determined anatomical-functional structure and, on the other, on the verbal stimulus provided by the environment.

Precisely, these neurological structures are responsible for processing sounds as well as allowing us to evoke words and conjugate functional verbs. The stimulation of this neurological network makes it possible to acquire linguistic strengths to achieve adequate language development that is directly related to the social environment. But what can happen if the stimulation comes from a technological device in an excessive and uncontrolled manner?

It is important to keep in mind at all times that one of the adverse effects of irresponsible use of technologies is that children can become addicted and dependent, which can result in a language deficit due to lack of communication with others. .

Digital skills

Parents who must care for and educate their children in the digital age face a dichotomy. On the one hand, as some recent research highlights , the advantageous uses of the Internet depend largely on the digital skills of citizens. These studies urge the generalization of best practices and the establishment of protection and control mechanisms for secure Internet access.

And there is no doubt that, in this context of permanent technological changes, educators cannot close the doors to digital transformation. Minors and young people must acquire and develop digital skills to be able to face and overcome the challenges of this complex and liquid social era . Therefore, it is necessary to educate in digital literacy.

However, it is also necessary to establish limits. It is necessary to keep minors away from permanent contact with the Internet and prevent them from becoming dependent on its use and becoming addicted to the screen, which is clearly harmful to their neurodevelopment.

In conclusion, good practices in digital education represent a great challenge for both families and educational institutions. Knowing how to make appropriate use of new technologies becomes as relevant as it is urgent.

Meanwhile, we must not forget the warning of one of the greatest language analysts, Ludwig Wittgenstein , when he stated clearly and forcefully:

“The limits of my world are the limits of my language.” Logical-philosophical tractatus .

Let’s try to make technologies and the Internet expand our world without limiting it.

Author Bio: Ana Monica Chérrez Bermejo is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Psychology. Knowledge area: Personality, Psychological Evaluation and Treatment. Department: HEALTH SCIENCES at the Public University of Navarra