Seven out of ten children and adolescents between 10 and 15 years old have a mobile phone in Spain, according to the latest data from the Spanish Statistics Institute (INE)< a i=2>. Our recent study shows that 60% of them do not have rules at home for their use.
Both realities (children and adolescents with mobile phones from an early age with an absence of clear rules regarding their use) are risk factors for falling into problematic screen use, along with the presence of parental models of high screen consumption. .
Ban cell phones until the age of 16?
The initiative “Adolescence without cell phones” is bringing together thousands of fathers and mothers around an idea and an objective: a “pact “social between families” to delay giving a mobile phone to their children. Families seek mutual support to make a decision that, alone, is practically impossible or they are worried that it will condemn the boy or girl who does not have a mobile phone to a certain social ostracism.
However, and despite the importance of the age of initiation of cell phone use, delaying or postponing it does not make the main problem disappear. And this is how, once delivered, we ensure that teens use it responsibly and in moderation.
In this sense, as parents, mothers, educators, we must ask ourselves not only at what age we want our children to start moving in the digital world, but above all: are we prepared to accompany them in responsible use? Do we act as models of healthy consumption? Are we willing to talk about social networks?
Prohibitions in the adolescent brain
Sensation seeking, low perception of risk and lack of self-control are common and expected traits in the adolescent population. Therefore, it is important to accompany them in responsible use of the mobile phone and all its possibilities. Certain rules are obvious and must be established: agree on time limits and moments of disconnection. However, if we are very authoritarian, this, in addition to discussions, will not lead us to success.
Thus, it is much more effective to reach joint agreements than to impose a decalogue of rules. It is about promoting active parental mediation: supervising, guiding and accompanying the use of technologies. As proposed by the National Cybersecurity Institute: setting an example when using new technologies, talking to them about the real risks of the Internet and taking an interest in their online behavior are educational attitudes that require being an active part of their development.
Assume responsibilities and accompany
Fear of the unknown triggers a primitive avoidance and flight response. Ignorance of certain networks and the operation of certain digital applications makes talking about technologies a taboo topic among fathers, mothers and children. Many times, it is prohibited for fear of the unknown. In this sense, it is important to assume responsibilities and face the new digital reality as a challenge and not as a problem.
On the Internet we are also parents, and that is why it is important to agree with our children on a support in which we decide what type of supervision we will do. It is important to avoid unlimited access without forgetting that it is also necessary to respect your privacy. Some tips could be:
- Be interested in what they do and what content they access. With trust it is easier for them to explain possible problems and for us to detect if there is the presence of certain content or inappropriate behaviors such as interactions with unknown. It will be very important to be receptive and not judge.
- Regulate mobile phone use by creating a family screen use contract. It is important to involve adolescents in creating limits since this way they are more likely to comply with them. . It is recommended to negotiate the rules: we can make use more flexible so that they feel that they can continue with social interaction and, at the same time, define clear time limits for use.
- The anxiety that can be generated by the fear of not being available, known as FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out in English: fear of missing out on something) can be managed by helping them realize how they can enjoy spaces free of screens. Eating meals without screens and enjoying a conversation, or taking a walk without the company of your cell phone and paying attention to the elements in your environment, can be examples of a healthy “digital diet.” .
- Lead by example. Adolescents who perceive their parents as high digital consumers are at greater risk of also practicing high consumption. Therefore, becoming models of responsible use can be a protection factor. We must not forget that we are the main references and act as models for our children.
The fact that they were born with a cell phone under their arm does not mean that they are digitally competent. It is up to adults to be educated in values both in the terrestrial world and in the digital world. Therefore, in the digital world it is also necessary to take care of privacy and respect the right to privacy and the limits of freedom of expression. Also, it will be necessary to educate and promote critical thinking: so that they detect false information, hate speech and content that can harm them.
Communication and more communication
Communication is the basis of trust. In the same way that it is necessary to agree on rules of use, it is also necessary to open the channel of communication with our children about the use of technologies and social networks.
Let’s take an interest in knowing their tastes and concerns. Let us always keep the lines of communication open, create spaces of trust and accompany them in this stage of digital discovery.
Author Bio: Maria de las Mercedes Martín Perpiñá is a Professor Personality Area, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment at UOC – Universitat Oberta de Catalunya