The world in which our children grow is filled with computers, mobile phones, television and other electronic devices. The internet, movies, games and features of electronic gadgets are a part of modern life and the everyday environment of almost every child and so I feel it necessary to take a position on them, just as I think it necessary to take a position on school, religion, consumption, food, politics …
In this text I present my personal perspective, based on my experience and numerous studies on the effects of the use of electronic devices.
To start with, my children do not play computer games. Not because of radicalism, fundamentalism, nostalgic ideas of past times without computers or irrational fears of the evil of the virtual world. As a rule, they do not play computer games because I simply think they do not need them. It does them no good and there is no physical, cognitive or psychological need to play Minecraft , Game of Thrones or whatever.
In the unschooler ‘s milieu there are a lot of people who truly believe in the body’s ability to self-regulate, which in many cases equates to what I call laissez-faire approach: they believe that children can eat only Nutella and sausages for weeks, for the body will end up giving signs that it needs other nutrients, and the child will eventually eat healthy food; they believe that children can be in front of a screen for weeks at a time, because at last there will be self-regulation and the child will become aware of using electronic devices in moderation …
Yes, there is in fact the capacity for self-regulation of the organism, but it is closely linked to an adequate environment in which there is the possibility of satisfying human needs naturally, as has always happened in the millions of years of evolution of the human being. However, we are now so far from this natural environment in which the human being was inserted, that the premises that worked for a hunter-gatherer do not work for a modern child of a European city. If a person in his/her natural environment and in perfect physical and emotional health recognizes that a particular fruit does not do him/her well, it does not happen to an urban, sedentary child, accustomed to super sugary foods, flavour enhancers and industrialised products. Like this, it makes sense that a hunter-gatherer would feed on berries and roots if he wished and could last for a long time, until his body gave him signs that he needed meat. However, a child who wants to feed only on fast food is unaware of the signs of his/her body and has no ability to recognize the harmful effects of fast food in the long run. The same is true for electronic devices : they operate at a level so subtle but so intense that a child (and even an adult) is often unable to sense the harmful effects.
So I argue that adults have a responsibility to make informed decisions, and one of them is, for me, to limit the use of computers, television and virtual games.
One reason is, in my opinion, the fact that it is a virtual world . A child, as everyone knows dealing with child development, learns all about the world through their senses. It needs to feel, to move, to smell, to run, to climb, in short, to interact actively with the world that surrounds it. It is through the interaction in which all the senses are stimulated, that the child learns everything he needs. What’s the use of learning English numbers through a computer game, or solve mathematical problems in a virtual program? For the entire, complex and total development of the child, this is insignificant. Insignificant also to his/her happiness, physical and emotional well-being, self-esteem …
A lot of people say, “Oh, but my son learned to read and write (or math, or whatever) through Minecraft !” For me, this does not justify the countless hours that this child spent sitting, glued to a screen, engulfed in a virtual game, with no emotional connection to the real world. I prefer that my son does not learn to read and write, but that he has physical balance, that he knows birds singing, watches the sunrise, climbs a tree, swims in a wild river … And I am absolutely certain from my experience with my children; they too will learn to read and write, when they are ready. Even without Minecraft !!
Another aspect that worries me is the content of movies and games. In addition to generally encouraging stereotypes, the vast majority of films and games convey a linear, artificial and superficial worldview. The characters are generally of little psychological depth, the simple and even meaningless plots, the transmitted banal values. Psychologists and Marketing specialists work together to win and keep young consumers: so for girls there is the fashionable Disney world in which kitsch images of princesses, fairies and elves dominate; for boys, the world of brute force, of violent struggle, speed and aggressive competition.
In my opinion, there is more world to show, more life to live!
I do not want my children’s heads and hearts to be populated by Elsas, Annas, Hulks or Mc Queens … I do not want them to believe the subtle messages that the world is black and white, that there are “the good” and the “bad”, that danger lurks in every corner, and that the beautiful are good and the bad ugly, that the princesses or the violent are ideal to follow.
We adults sometimes think that kids know it’s “just a movie” or “just a game”. Studies have shown, however, that children are too late to distinguish fantasy from reality and that childhood is a crucial stage in the formation of worldliness: it is in childhood that one forms and stabilizes the way one views the world and how you see your position in this world. No game, no movie, no word goes unnoticed without effecting the child who is still so open and vulnerable to any input.
I am also worried about the commercialization of childhood. Movies and video games for children and young people are a growing, million-dollar market. Again, psychologists and marketers unite efforts – not to meet children’s emotional and physical needs, but to sell .
In this way, nothing is sacred. They use all means to fascinate children, to transform them into avid consumers and to transmit to their parents that they buy more. Frozen Backpacks , Minions Mugs , Super-man T-Shirts , Mickey Mouse stuffed animals…
In addition to transforming children’s rooms into Disney exhibitions and the like, and birthday parties into humiliating copies of franchise stores, these commercial images limit the development of creativity.
Creativity is not imitation. A kid who plays he/she is Minecraft’s Steve or Frozen’s Elsa is not being creative: he is imitating, rather than representing something that has touched her and needs inner work, their creativity departs from something framed by unfamiliar adults.
Herein lies the problem of the conception of creativity. I think the concept is misinterpreted because it is assumed that everything that is produced is the result of a creative process.
However, the creative process only exists from absolutely unique and original ideas!
Many proudly parents speak to me about their children as being extremely creative. Children who write, draw, build a lot, to the satisfaction of parents and teachers. I look closely: I see stories that repeat scenes of movies and very simple scenarios, stereotyped drawings, predictable manual works, with quick results, results for putting on the shelf over the fireplace, on display.
These children are not creative, in the true sense of the word. They do not create, but produce . It is a substantial difference. And I believe that the prefabricated world of television, school and computer games bear immense responsibility for the loss of creativity.
There are many parents who say they feel at ease, because their children will never become dependent on computer games, because they have a stable emotional life …
They refer to the fact that addictions, in general, are the result of emotional deprivation and trauma, and games (or drugs, alcohol, etc.) are only a symptom rather than the cause of addiction. Therefore, emotionally healthy children will not be dependent or influenced by the virtual world. I agree that emotionally stable children are less likely to give in to dependencies, but I wonder – who assures us that our children are always, at any time, emotionally stable? Who possesses the maturity to distinguish fantasy from reality, junk from quality, addiction from hobby?
In the modern world of nuclear families, without a network of friends and family who support and give input and emotional and physical reinforcement, who is still minimally emotionally stable and physically healthy? Few, I would say. And I see that the virtual world is very appealing to children deprived of the stimulating clan, children in apartments or in situations of emotional crisis (birth of siblings, divorce, moving house, academic pressure, emotional neglect, etc.)
Movies and cartoons are an easy way to escape reality, as we all know. It is too attractive to be able to turn on a button and receive ready-made images with all the subtle effects that please us. Just lean backwards and consume.
Added to this is the enormous attractive power of videogames , which can be summarized as follows:
- Virtual games (and also TV shows) provide an opportunity to explore the child’s real interests through a more stimulating format.
- The player has the possibility of adopting a virtual identity more powerful and interesting than his real identity.
- Enables virtual experiences impossible in real life.
- It requires much less effort than the deepening of interests in real life.
- Reinforces ongoing play through online social connections and a sense of gradual success, carefully engineered by creators, which builds on the psychological principles of behaviourism.
I find myself in an absurd situation which concerns me: on the one hand, there are more and more parents who are concerned about the harmful effects of schooling and who become aware of the manipulation and control exercised through school. More and more parents have the courage to take their children out of school and embark on a path to mental and emotional freedom. On the other hand – which is absurd – there is also an increasing number of out-of-school children who spend their daily lives in front of the screens, without the parents realizing that these are also vehicles of manipulation and control of behaviour, distraction, banalization and inculcation of prefabricated ideas!
For all this, I decided to limit my children’s access to tablets, television and computer screens. Every once in a while a movie comes along, it happens to be rare. They do not miss it. They use the computer to search information, write, download music. Just like any other tool and they use it punctually.
Otherwise, they play in real life. They explore the real world with all their senses. They emerge in stimulating opportunities, challenging real friendships, problems to solve, commitments to make …. They get bored and do not know what to do. They seek solutions and occupations. They keep their unique, extravagant, eccentric thoughts, their worldview and their fantasy.
I strive to accompany them and nurture them so that they can develop in their unique way, far from pre-fabricated ideas and without being subject to strategies of pedagogy, psychology and marketing.
I feel responsible for protecting them from the virtual world from which, surely, they would not come unharmed. I feel responsible for protecting the vulnerable, innocent, and extremely creative beings that they are.
Until they have the competence to decide, also, on this matter …
Set Free Childhood: Parents’ Survival Guide for Coping with Computers and TV (Early Years) Paperback – September 15, 2003 , by Martin Large
Kids and Credibility: An Empirical Examination of Youth, Digital Media Use, and Information Credibility , Paperback – July 9, 2010, by Andrew J. Flanagin (Author), Miriam J. Metzger (Author), Ethan Hartsell (Contributor) & 4 more
(Original text in portuguese, translation by Carolina van Rheenen)