“My son. 14 years. Crying like a muffin because we didn’t buy her a cell phone. It is already difficult for us to do homework, study, go to bed and not be distracted without having a mobile, to buy one. And the problem is not him. The problem is the parents of others ”, complained the father of a teenager on a Twitter post that went viral a while ago. “EVERYONE, absolutely ALL 3rd ESO students have a telephone,” he lamented.
Its publication, which even had repercussions in the media, generated a strong debate about whether parents should give in to this demand ever earlier of teenagers. What should you do if your child is the only one in his class who does not have a mobile? Can you strike a balance without going to the extreme of excluding you from your friends or exposing you to dangers for which you are unprepared?
The challenge of connecting with children
“I think prohibit does not work, it is about educating. Our children are part of a digital generation, we cannot prohibit them something that may affect their social relationships, or leave them out of everything, “says Sonia López, mother of two adolescents aged 14 and 12, as well as a teacher, psychopedagogue, trainer of families and contributor to the blog Bad mothers. In turn, he adds: “Sometimes we ban for not making the effort to inform ourselves. It’s easier to say no, but we have an obligation to adapt and know, to know what can help them or not ”.
“Prohibiting is the worst thing to do,” confirms the psychologist, an expert in technological addictions, Gabriela Paoli. “Parents have the task of accompanying their children in the process of initiation in the virtual world. Today educate means educate in technology“, And adds that” Letting him have it, although always under supervision, is much more pedagogical and healthy for emotional ties. It doesn’t have to be a battle, you have to stand by his side and navigate with him, see what his interests are. Connect, instead of walking away. There is a lot of fear in parents, and that fear has to be changed for caution and precaution ”.
Pablo Lorenzo is the father of seven children between 5 and 22 years old, two between 11 and 15 years old. In addition, he is a family counselor and youtuber under the Family Man account. He agrees that the best option is adapt to new trends. “We are the first generation of parents to have to educate in technologies, we do not have clear references or guidelines,” he explains. At the same time, he assures that “You do not have to demonize the mobile. This is not about being a dangerous or addictive device, but about an education issue. A knife can be dangerous, but we teach our children to use it. In the same way, a mobile is a tool that they will have to use for everything. If they learn to use it responsibly, it can be wonderful. ”
The times: in the hands of parents, not social pressure
Avoiding the ban does not mean having to give in to social pressure to give a child a mobile just because their peers have it. “Our youngest son is one of the few in his class who still does not have a mobile phone, but we believe that that is not an excuse,” says Sonia López, and explains: “When ESO begins, we will evaluate if it is mature enough for its use. It is not a ‘no’ because yes, we explain to him that it is because we want to give it to him when he has the capacity to manage it correctly ”.
Meanwhile, they provide their child with other alternatives to interact with his classmates: he can do it at school itself, through his parents’ mobile phone or through online video games, where they control him to play only with friends.
In the case of Pablo Lorenzo, they decided to put a common term for all their children: “We agreed that we will give them to them when they turn fifteen. Before, we entrusted them with different tasks and household chores, to verify that they are sufficiently responsible ”.
On this point, the psychologist Gabriela Paoli explains that “In general, experts recommend giving a mobile phone from the age of 16, but the statistics are lower.” Indeed, according to the latest ‘Survey on Equipment and Use of Information and Communication Technologies in Homes’ of the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the percentage of children between 11 and 15 years old who had a mobile phone last year was 69.5%.
The expert clarifies that the age to give this device “depends on many circumstances. It is not the same that your parents are separated, for example. More than age (although it matters), the level of maturity and autonomy you have is key. If you don’t do your homework alone, you won’t have the autonomy to control your connection time. You are being asked for something that you are not prepared for ”. On the other hand, he explains that “If you have a level of autonomy when studying, and you have these internalized skills, you are more likely to make correct use of the device, although without forgetting that adolescence is a time of great transgression and rebellion”.
The percentage of children between 11 and 15 years old who had a mobile phone last year was 66%
Regarding social pressure, Paoli observes that the claims of the type “I am left out” or “They do not invite me” by adolescents can generate a lot of tension and bewilderment in the parents, but that should not lead to unrestricted permission. Rather, parents have to be prepared to take that step with awareness.
“Although the rest of our children’s companions have mobile phones before, we are not afraid that they may feel excluded,” says Pablo Lozano, adding that “There are other ways of relating. We make it easy for you to meet your friends. Also, by setting a deadline and sharing it with them, they accept it easier ”.
“A device cannot be delivered without previously established rules”
The use cannot be private
Not prohibiting does not mean giving free use either. “You cannot deliver a device without previously established rules. Just like parents don’t leave their children alone at 2am on the street, you also have to accompany them here. The rules and limits that apply in real life must be transferred to virtual life. It is not about giving them an emotional pacifier, but about accompanying them in that immersion in the network, because otherwise it can be very dangerous ”, explains Gabriela Paoli.
One of the tools that the professional recommends is generate contracts with children on good use, such as, for example, the contract model proposed by the ANAR Foundation.
“It worked very well for us. In our case, it is a contract that is full of common sense, in which a schedule is established to be able to control the time that you are connected on the internet. It also happens to adults that, if we don’t manage it, we are hooked all day, ”explains López.
From this contract, which is signed before receiving the mobile, certain rules are established such as, for example, cell phone use only in common areas or outside study hours. “You have to make him understand that this helps him not stop doing the things he did before, and so he can see the benefits,” says López.
“You have to make him understand that this helps him not stop doing the things he did before, and so he can see the benefits”
Paoli explains that there are things that can be negotiated democratically, and others that the adult must decide. “Some points can be shared and debated. When you involve a teenager, he takes responsibility and does not feel like an imposition, “he says.
“Our contract it has become more flexible as our son grows. If you do it well, you will gain more freedom in its use ”, explains Sonia López. Thus, for example, while they agreed not to review their WhatsApp conversations, they do control their Instagram account. “We explained to him that it is not for control but for his safety,” he says.
What’s more, for her it is essential to educate by example. “The problem appears when as parents we ask them to do something that we do not do. If we are glued to the mobile phone all day or sharing their images and privacy on social networks, they end up doing the same, ”says López.
Pablo Lorenzo also resorted to signing a “contract” with his children, to establish certain rules such as, for example, that parents must have the mobile password, which can only be used in common areas, and that they cannot send Whatsapps after 11pm. If the contract is not fulfilled, the device is withdrawn for one week. “Having established guidelines in advance, they accept the consequences if they do not comply,” he says.
The keys: supervise and accompany
For Gabriela Paoli, this type of agreement must contemplate the control and monitoring of two fundamental aspects: the time of use and access to information, so that they do not develop addictions nor are they exposed to inappropriate content. For this, it is essential that parents, as legal guardians, have the passwords to access the device. “The adolescent must understand that the mobile is his, because it has been given to him, but that it is not private,” he says.
“The problem appears when as parents we ask them to do something that we do not do”
In addition to supervising the content accessed by their children, it also highlights the importance of use in common areas, to avoid being locked up to use it in their rooms. “We have to keep in mind that they are devices that are designed to be highly addictive. The screen generates dopamine, a neurotransmitter for happiness. It is normal that the connection time is very difficult to control ”, details the specialist.
So that use does not lead to abuse, parents must watch for signs of addictive behavior, such as changes in sleep patterns, routines, academic performance or emotional state. As the professional indicates, it is never too late to correct inappropriate uses. “If parents observe that their children are making an incorrect use, the error is assumed and a way to redirect it is sought. You are always on time ”, he assures.
However, the basis is that parents can overcome their fears and take responsibility for accompanying your children in digital immersion. “It is important that access is progressive and monitored, that children feel that their parents are there with them, that they have left them alone in that virtual world,” says Paoli.