A question of education

There’s a huge debate going on about the problems parents face in bringing up children who are unable to put down a device they are under constant pressure to use, and that at the same time, given its versatility, exercises an irresistible fascination over them. Parents and teachers watch in desperation as their children, at certain ages, are absorbed, seemingly abducted, by their smartphones, using them to send messages or play games, in the process, rendering them inert, anti-social, and failing to respond to any other stimulation than that provided by the screen.

So when somebody like me says that the best age for children to have access to a smartphone is when they stop putting it in their mouth, a lot of people either assume that I don’t have children, or that quite simply I fail to grasp the true scale of the “problem”. Add to this, in the case of Spain, a former juvenile court judge who can’t resist the temptation of hitting the headlines by saying “if the first thing an adolescent does when he or she wakes up is to grab hold of his or her smartphone, then we’re talking about addiction.”

One might have expected a former judge to have a slightly better idea of what is going on around him, instead we get dangerous hyperbole.

Quite simply, there is no such thing as technology addiction, and nobody is addicted to their smartphone, in the same way that there were never people addicted to the landline phone. Smartphones are not a drug, and neither is a computer, or the internet. Instead, what we have are badly brought up children, or parents who have failed to meet their responsibilities in doing so. I would agree with the aforementioned judge that there are parents who do not know how to raise their children, or who believe that as their children were born into the digital age, they have nothing to say about how they should use technology.

There exists a generation of parents irresponsible enough to believe that attempting to exercise over their children is in someway an assault on the dignity of their offspring or that they will even cause some kind of trauma. We’ve all seen it: “Hey, don’t throw the cutlery at the people on the next table… ha ha, kids, what are they like?” There are parents who use smartphones as a way to keep their children quiet, or who let them use the “computer room” without any supervision, as though a computer were some kind of child-minder. No, the smartphone is not addictive, and what’s more, it’s going to play a growing role in the future of our children, and so it would be a good idea to know how to use one sensibly. The cellphone encourages children to write, and we learn to write by writing, even if in abbreviated form: those catastrophists who believe that we are creating a generation of children who won’t know how to write have already been shown to be wrong by tests in language use in which the SMS generation scores better than their elders.

Children should not be isolated from technology, and doing so will only damage their chances for the future. What we need to do is to educate them, in the same way that we always have. Allow them to play games at all hours? No, there is playtime, and there is time for doing other things. So why do we allow our children to play at all times on their phones, even during meals? Manners play the same role that they have always played, and bringing up our children means educating them in the correct use of technology, because technology is not on the margins of education.

So no, bringing children up correctly doesn’t mean depriving them of technology or not allowing them to use it until they reach a certain age: if anything, we need to expose them to technology as early as possible. We need to experiment with technology, which means playing with Arduino, with Raspberry Pi, with bq educational robotic kits or Lego Mindstorms, depending on our budget and preferences. They need to try Scratch, put together their own projects, use 123D or similar programs so that they have an idea how to use a 3D printer. In short: more technology, not less. Can they play Minecraft? Of course! But what they can’t do is start playin it at six in the evening and then continue until midnight as though there was nothing else to be done, because that simply isn’t practicable.

If you don’t know how to bring up your children, then you need to start learning, fast. And you need to understand that technology or smartphones aren’t the problem, it’s you. There are no addicted children, there are simply badly brought up children. It is, quite simply, a question of education.

(En español, aquí)

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