They live in our house, but spend much of their time in a distant continent that is accessed with a click on their touch screen. What do our children feel and do on the Internet? To find out, we’ve put together as accurate a map as possible of the good and bad you’ll see.
A conversation at home could be this:
-“But can you know what is so interested in that mobile that you have been glued to it for hours?”
“Mom, you don’t understand, I’m talking to my friends, I’ve seen a couple of chapters of my series, a very cool tutorial on natural numbers and a draw my life to learn the fall of the Roman Empire.”
The digital revolution will be studied in the history books as a change as significant as the Neolithic or industrial revolution because of the enormous volume of transformations it has brought, not only in the way of communicating, managing information and producing, but in the way society behaves. Along with this emblematic historical leap, another one is already taking place in our homes, silent and constant: many parents cannot understand why their children spend so much time on their mobile phone and many children cannot understand why their parents do not understand them.
The digital divide no longer has to do with the difference between poor and rich because technology is now available to everyone, but with the difference between natives and immigrants, in the words of Marc Prensky, between digital children and analog parents.
They are there. The age of arrival fluctuates slightly between 9 and 14 years, which, in reality, represents a small arch of access. From the 3rd year of ESO practically all students have their own mobile. But long before reaching that point, they have regularly used some other device, whether it is a tablet for home use, or their parents’ mobile, and an ‘old’ one that only works with Wi-Fi. Long before we have their own phone, our kids take hours of browsing.
Hours and hours of navigation: the secret of the business
They have been so many hours that, as Antonio Milán recalls in his book Hyperconnected and Happy Adolescents (Ed. Teconté), they learn to move around the Internet without knowing how to read or write. Just think of the already everyday scene of a baby in a restaurant watching nice cartoon videos on his mother’s mobile while adults chat at food. Parents do not need to attend to the demands of the child to look for new videos. The content platform, for example, YouTube, will offer you new proposals according to your interests without a solution of continuity. Because the main objective of these new and profitable digital companies – it is worth remembering that the vast majority are free to access, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat or WhatsApp– is that we spend as much time as possible literally hooked between their networks.
Therein lies the key to the phenomenon: our pre-teens, teenagers and young people consume many hours of the Internet because their promoters work intensively to get them to consume many hours of the Internet.
Here the success is in the volume of time they spend on the screen.
Juan Enrique Gonzálvez Vallés, professor at the CEU San Pablo University and expert in new technologies and social networks, reassures us: we should not demonize this way of marketing in the digital world, because in reality it is not very different from the studied strategies that are applied in a hypermarket so that we buy more products with constant calls of attention on our senses. In the end, as in everything, the key is in the Aristotelian maxim that places virtue at the center.
Addictive behavior with mobile
In fact, for Gonzálvez, who, as head of Social Networks at the Faculty of Humanities of his University, knows first-hand the behavior of children in the digital world. While it is true that there can be very specific cases of behavioral addictions to mobile phone use, it is a mistake to compare it with realities such as drug use: “Heroin does not bring anything good to be used as it is used and the Internet, well-used, has an excellent potential”.
The latest studies of the PISA Report prepared by the OECD that evaluates competences and skills in different subjects reveal a relevant aspect: the excessive use of the Internet influences studies as negatively as the non-use at all.
That is, the students with the best results are those who know how to correctly use the contents they have at their fingertips.
“Only half a century ago,” explains Gonzalez, “there was also a lot of knowledge, but locked in distant libraries that were very difficult to access. The Internet has made that knowledge accessible, and that’s a good thing.”
The problem is that, interset with informed and rigorous knowledge, useless content, if not harmful or false, remains crouched. For this reason, Professor Antonio Milán, PhD in Education, is committed to the urgent need to develop critical thinking in them. That involves all the agents involved in the education of children and adolescents, from teachers and professors to parents, because the one who does not know, cannot guide.
What do parents do?
In fact, Milan is surprised at how parents show excessive control over their children’s routine activities – from the tasks they are entrusted to what they dedicate their leisure time to – and yet they are hardly interested in the time they spend in the digital environment. There are many who throw in the towel because, as they do not understand it, they desist from asking.
If they asked, they would realize what appeals to them so much. First, it’s simple to understand: there are your friends.
The relationship with peers is one of the key elements of this stage.
“Before, they spent hours eating pipes in the town square and chatting with friends sitting on a bench,” Gonzales explains with a reassuring analogy. “Today, they’re on social media.” Milan analyzes the degree of satisfaction produced by this important feeling of belonging in an environment in which, in addition, no one scolds them. Because the digital world has become physical for them, and there are no adults there. So the main function is to be in contact with others. In the numerous studies that Milan analyzes in his work, terms such as communicating, knowing, sharing, also having fun and, to a lesser extent, buying appear.
Contact with your friends in the digital world
The boys spend hours on their mobile because there they get constant contact with their friends. María González, a student in the first year of Humanities and Communication at CEU San Pablo University, explains it with skill: “What our parents do not understand is that we are not obsessed with the mobile, but that we are dependent on the people who are in it.”
The most important thing for them is the group of equals:”We need to feel part of the clan.” But what is hidden behind is a certain fear of emptiness: “We need to feel busy because we are afraid of silence, empty spaces, lost afternoons. Fragmentation of attention calls it.” Indeed, Antonio Milán agrees with this diagnosis and affirms that being on the Internet makes them feel active, even if in reality they waste their time. Because they are all the time pressing a button, doing a new search, talking to a friend and so on, all afternoon.
If the question is whether in all those hours our children can see bad things or be close to crime, they can possibly access more harmful content and are less aware of the transcendence of their actions. But if we think in percentage, the vast majority of kids who right now have a mobile in their hands do not do anything bad, maybe nothing good, they are simply there, like the rest of their friends. And as soon as they learn to get in front of the mirror and apply some personal reflection, they are the first to realize that it is best to put the use of the mobile a little head.