Destroyer of myths, blogger, and mother of three children, the journalist María Zabala Pino, after working 20 years in the areas of communication strategies and public relations, has devoted herself to the digital world and the digital formation of parents and children. She has a fun web page. : http://www.iwomanish.com/ .
A POINT OF CALM
When I speak with parents about issues of technology and children, I remind them that there are studies that help us to have a point of calm, because I believe that it is always good to calm oneself so as not to feel guilty, because with a sense of guilt or with fear, you go nowhere. There is a study by Gallup that says that at the end of the forties, 21 per cent of young people read, and that in 2005, 47 per cent of children read. Children do not read less. People do not read less either. And the Pew Research Internet Project, in a study from 2014, says that young people read more today than before. And they do more than adults. We don’t have to be afraid that children don’t read. Although it may appear to us to be the opposite, now people read more than in the forties, children read more than adults, and more than before. Finally, a study by the Spanish Kaiser Foundation on the reading habits of children between 8 and 18 years old, says that in fact reading of the printed word has been reduced, but when it is broken down it is seen that what has drastically descended is the reading of magazines—I read many magazines in the eighties, I read Superpop, and teen magazines. Now children do not read those, they read books, not magazines.
And when you go to studies like Mobile Kids: The Parent, the Child and the Smartphone carried out by the Nielsen Company, the relationship of children with smartphones, tablets, etc., reading is what they do the least: They mostly do text messaging (81%), download apps (59%), or they play (53%). Therefore, whether they read a lot or a little, they don’t read much on electronic devices. And when you ask them, they say they prefer to read or study on paper. And a psychologist and specialist in media, Yalda T. Uhls, says for one thing that if you have young people to whom you give a text to read and then you ask them for a commentary of the text, there is no difference in comprehension between those children who have read on an electronic device and those children who have read on paper.
The comprehension is the same…
Yes. When they are studying, if the child is reading or highlighting in his notebook or is reading on a tablet and highlighting with his finger on the tablet, the retention is the same. That’s why what I try to explain to parents: after 8 years of age, when the child has already learned to read, and what he needs is to keep reading no matter what the medium is through which the content arrives. What counts is that we give him the tools so that he knows how to read, create, review, etc. Learning trough reading is what counts.
THE THREE C’S: CONTENT, CONTEXT, CHILD
Children learn to read and we concentrate on that. According to the age of the children, who are learning to read, they tell you to read with them, you establish reward systems, if you read a chapter I’ll give you…. The way of codifying the letters changes—p with a, pa—this has modified, new systems of learning are developed. There are three fundamental elements: the content, the context and the child himself. They’re called the three C’s. When one reads, he has to understand what he is reading, the “content”. There is a context. And then there is the child, because not all children read the same way, not all of them interiorize what they are reading, not all of them have the same capacity to apply their voluntary attention. We live in a world in which our involuntary attention is over-excited, because electronic devices are hoarders of involuntary attention, we look and we don’t need to do anything else, everything is given to us already done, we are passive consumers. We must teach children to exercise their voluntary attention in what they need to think. Reading is a way of exercising voluntary attention.
According to the experts, it makes no difference in the technical part if you are reading on paper, with a school textbook, or with a tablet or computer. You learn to put A together with B, you learn that a comma is one kind of pause and a period another, and you can hear the voice of someone who tells you how to read. On the part of the knowledge, the part of the child and the part of the content, it is also a little independent what the source of the reading is. But the part of the context is the part that the adult gives the child. When you do a dialogic reading with your child, or with your student, you are inviting him to transcend what he is reading and to relate it to the real world: this is the context. Here it seems that the retention is a little better when the child reads than when he does it on a screen, but the key element is the adult involved in the reading with this child.
SCREEN TIME: THE TABLET DOES NOT FRY THEIR BRAINS
We have the problem of common opinion: children are stuck to a screen, the tablet fries their brains. And we get bogged-down with the subject of time with the screen. And not all screen time is the same. There is good screen time. What doesn’t make sense is useless screen time, totally passive for the child, and also prolonged. The child can play with Martians for half an hour, and won’t wind up dazed because of it.
Screen time is frequency, it’s content, and it’s company. In frequency it depends on what the child is doing. If he’s watching a film you’ll have to give him an hour and a half, at weekends, because on weekdays he hasn’t got to be watching films. In my house, for example, electronic devices are for the weekends. If it’s playing with Martians, you can give him half an hour, because if you don’t, he’s not going to be able to move up to the next level, and the child needs to move on to the next level because there is a gratification, a boost of self-esteem that is good. With an app for putting letters together, well perhaps he could spend 20 minutes.
YOU TUBE, BUT WITH A FILTER
Another problem is that we’re leaving children with YouTube videos, without any filters and without choosing, for forty-five minutes to keep them quiet. I, who am not critical with parents, tell you that this is not to our advantage. And it isn’t that difficult to change it.
At these ages, what do they see in YouTube?
They see cartoons they like. At these ages—from zero to eight years old, it’s proven, according to a study by the Autonomous University of Barcelona and the Autonomous of Madrid, the technological customs that they have, have to do with their passions. They don’t watch strange things. If they like legos, they look for things about legos, if they like playmobil, they look for things about playmobil, if it’s Barbie, they look for things about Barbie, or books about Barbie.
WE DON’T KNOW ABOUT THE TECHNOLOGICAL LIVES OF OUR CHILDREN
What needs to be encouraged is talking with the child, knowing what he likes. If you have a six-year-old child, you know what school he goes to, more or less the name of his little friends, what his teacher’s name is, he tells you that they are reading such-and-such book in school, that he’s learned the letter P, whether he likes swimming class. Unlike these chartered territories, the technological lives of our children are unknown for us. Because we tend to leave them and let them deal with it themselves—“take the tablet and search for it” or “Mommy, I want to play”, and you download an application that is about planes, “Here”--. In the education that we’re giving children now, up to about eight years of age more or less, they use technology to make a prolongation of what they like in real life. But we don’t always know what they do when they’re online. Because if they like videogames, we don’t usually play with them. We don’t know what they like. And when they outgrow that age, what we do, without noticing, is give them more technological autonomy than in real life: you don’t let them buy bread by themselves, you don’t let them take the bus, but you let them have a mobile phone, download an app. You don’t let them leave the house, but you let them download applications without having to ask your permission. And you don’t know what app they downloaded. And in the world of apps, it isn’t all the same. And there are places where you can find information about which apps are good and which aren’t.
First of all, you’ve got to download the app. Because I have seen seven-year-old children that download an app, because there isn’t a password on the tablet, and after all, since it’s free….The device gets full of useless applications, you don’t know which one the child uses or for how long, there are damaging, or false…there has to be a process of choosing what you put in your children’s hands.