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
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
2) Between 2 and 5 years old: no more than one hour a day in front of a
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
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
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
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.