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Can we have a little common sense about children and smartphones, please?

A report by the American Academy of Pediatrics concludes that there is a link between the time children spend using devices such as smartphones, tablets or computers, and the number of times fail to turn in their homework.

The findings have been seized on by some to demonize the use of such electronic devices, who see them as an evil that distracts children, prevents them from completing their homework and turns them into little more than “connected idiots” with little chance of success in life. For many parents, the warning is a wake-up call, a need to consider a change of habits and to rid their children of their devices and strictly ration their use.

What the study is really saying is that such devices are very appealing to children and that adults don’t teach their use properly to their offspring. All too often they are used to pacify children, and that if allowed to use them all day, everyday, children will.

The real problem is a failure to understand what education should be about. Smartphones and tablets are an ally of education, not its enemy. The idea of telling kids they can “play” with their devices when they have finished their homework is absurd. Knowledge is no longer to be found in textbooks, but on the internet, and children should be taught how to use their devices to find information. Instead of accepting this, schools trying to ban them from the classroom.

Furthermore, these devices are already at the center of our children’s lives, and will continue to be, increasingly so in fact. The only thing the American Academy of Pediatrics has proved is that it is completely out of step with the times and that anybody who takes any notice of its recommendations will be severely limiting their children’s ability to socialize and fit into the world.

It seems that each day we hear some institution rooted in the last century discovers a new threat to mankind, insisting that we carry on doing things as they have been done in the past.

With this in mind, perhaps I could offer some advice to parents:

  • These devices are an important part of today’s world. the sooner your children learn to use them well and responsibly, namely to solve problems, as well as understanding how they work, the better prepared they will be. They will be less ignorant.
  • These devices open the door to endless activities, are very addictive, and need to be used carefully. Obviously it is not a good thing for children to spend all their waking hours staring into a screen. Children need to be taught how to prioritize.
  • These devices are not pacifiers. If your children are bored or disruptive, sticking them in front of a screen is not the solution.
  • These devices provide access to information and knowledge. Teach your children that they can be used for other things than games. Teach them search strategies and how to apply critical thinking to the information they find. We live in a connected world, so what sense does it make to disconnect your child from it?
  • These devices are the gateway to a new social environment, but children need to understand that the world isn’t going to stop turning if they do not answer a message immediately, and that they can finish their meal, a conversation of even watching the sunset first. If you don’t teach your children how to use the internet properly, then they run the risk of misusing it.
  • These devices can be used to read books. If your children are not reading, suggest that they use their device to do so. Teach them to order books and comics, to read, to mark the parts they like. Books are an anachronism: teach your children to read on a device or however they want.
  • These devices should be used at school, and desks should have USB ports fitted to them. If the school your children attend insists on teaching them based on methods from the last century, consider a change of school. If that’s not possible, think about how you’re going to make up for the shortfall in this vital part of their education.
  • These devices are not harmful. What is harmful is to allow a child to spend all day playing with them and not talking to those around them. It is up to parents to teach their children how best to use these devices. If children misuse them, by not understanding that they are simply one of many tools at their disposal, parents have only themselves to blame. The sooner children familiarize themselves with computers, tablets and smartphones the better, and the sooner they will learn the full potential of these devices.

But above all, apply your critical faculties to studies such as that of the American Academy of Pediatrics. For as long as education is behind the times, which is certainly the case at the moment, we will continue to see any number of misleading correlations, such as that smartphones distract children in class. It goes without saying that if smartphones are not used as part of the educational process, having 20 or 30 children with phones on them is a recipe for disaster. They will disconnect from the class and connect with the virtual world.

No, things are not as simple as «yes smartphones, smartphones no». Things begin with «smartphones, of course» because they are a fundamental element of the ecosystem in which we must educate children, and continue by «and since smartphones themselves, adapt methods to extract their party, and educate in its use». Only then, when the transition is complete (or at least advanced, because complete, in fact, it never will not be), we can speak of significant correlations.

In short, smartphones are part of our reality and our children’s reality. As such, they must be incorporated into the educational process, and children taught how to use them to their full potential. Only then will we be able make the right links between smartphones and our children’s homework


(En español, aquí)