Some questions may arise spontaneously in educators who are facing the unstoppable advance of electronic devices, social media, apps, chats that make our world more and more "digitalized". One of these questions could be for example: how to make children use technologic devices and services properly? When to propose certain tools? At what age a child or teenager may own, for example, a mobile phone or be a user of a social network?
Everything in its own time, say the wise men: this motto should also apply to the use of technology.
Therefore, below we will try to offer some simple guidelines - with caution and without pretending to exhaust a constantly evolving problem.
For the little ones...
1) No TV, tablets and mobile phones before two years old
Pediatricians generally agree on this indication (we have taken Italy and the United States as examples): there would be no "educational advantages" in exposing children under 24 months to images, videos, cartoons or electronic games. On the contrary, they would be disturbing for their growth. In that phase, in fact, the child needs something else for his or her development (manipulation, involvement of more senses, motor activity, discovery of the world in a "tangible" way). The passive fruition of digital/virtual content does not have these characteristics. Moreover, virtual images are too complex for the neuronal activity present at that age.
Certainly, since we do not live on Mars, but in a world immersed in a multimedia context, it would be unrealistic to imagine that our children may never have any kind of visual contact with devices or screens until they are two years old.
Realistically, we advise you to avoid it as much as possible (for example by not keeping the TV always on at home) and not to offer them entertainment activities like showing videos or cartoons..., not because it is wrong, simply because it is not time yet!
What you can do, instead, from the very first months, isto listen to a music CD: there are even records specifically designed for babies, whose words are replaced by syllables, so as to get closer to their way of communicating and to simulate the heartbeat heard in the womb, the one that makes them reassured.
2) Between 2 and 5 years old: no more than one hour a day in front of a screen
Cartoons or videos suitable for children can be entertainment tools and have educational value at this stage, but they should not be the main activity of the day. It is important to choosequality, non-violent content and never leave children alone with their phone or tablet in their hands. Digital activity should always be shared with the parent.
Avoid it in the evening if possible : it can disturb sleep. A book before going to sleep is much better.
3) When to give the first mobile phone?
By law - at least in Italy - it is not allowed to give phone sim cards to children below 8 years of age; nevertheless, usually, most children receive their first mobile phone at 9 years.
What to say about this social habit? Is it too early? Most pediatricians advise not to give it before the age of 10; some pedagogues suggest not giving the mobile phone until the first grade (11-12 years) and the smartphone until the third grade (13-14).
However, the context may vary: we should also assess the risk of exclusion or the possibility that our child can use the phone of a peer and so we will lost control. Our advice is to make sensible choices, evaluate our child’s maturity and sense of responsibility and, above all, establish rules of use (for example, no more than one hour a day and switch off immediately after dinner). It may be useful to adopt protection systems such as: parental control, purchase mobile phones designed specifically for children, set up security measures to avoid surfing the Internet and visiting unsuitable sites, make your child understand that the activities carried out with the mobile phone should always be shared with the parent… just to mention a few guidelines.
4) When one may subscribe to a social network?
The proper age to subscribe to a social network or a messaging service in Europe is not only a parents’ educational problem: there is, in fact, aEuropean Regulation (GDPR) of 25 th of May 2018 on privacy and the processing of personal data. Article 8 of this Regulation prohibits the direct offer of digital services (i.e. the subscription to social networks and messaging services) to children under 16 years of age.
European national states are allowed to reduce even thatthreshold, and for example Italy has set a lower limit: 14 years.
Currently, under the age of 13, no one can subscribe to social networks - by virtue of American law to which companies that own social networks refer. Between 13 and 14 years old children can subscribe to those networks, but only with the authorization of parents, who will be responsible for any damage caused by their children.
Although these are the rules, many parents consent to the "camouflage" of their children's age by allowing them to enter into social networks world at an early age, perhaps without realizing that it is not good for them.
Our general advice for parents is not to be in a hurry and be able to say “no” when necessary.
In this article, we focused especially on "digital media". For books and films, the criteria that wise families have always followed apply: immoral or amoral books and films may corrupt good judgment and therefore caution is needed in their "use": appropriate age threshold - without forgetting that some contents are inappropriate for anybody-, to consider the level of maturity, reading or watching “antidotes” in order to prevent the “contagion by microbes”, etc.
In conclusion, as we often repeat, the most important thing is the character education, that really help people be truly free and responsible.
Part of media education consists in respecting the maturation times of the youngest and in not moving too quickly.
Let us reiterate this: everything at the right time.