Play station addicted, always connected to the internet with smartphone at hand even at night: they are digital natives, children and young people born after 2001 for which the virtual and real life are often intertwined with very blurred boundaries. The latest annual report by UNICEF “The State of Childhood in the World 2017”: Sons of the digital age”, published at the end of December 2017, confirms this scenario without any doubt. The data are clear: a 1 of 3 web users are children, 71% of children in the world is connected and in most developed countries a teenager sends an average of 4,000 messages per month, one every six minutes!
What do children do online?
All over the world, users connected to the internet are becoming increasingly younger and more mobile. Data from high connectivity countries report that children begin to use the internet to an ‘increasingly early age: on average 10 years and in some countries such as Bulgaria even at 7 years.
In the US, 92% of teenagers between 13 and 17 years declares daily online access through mobile devices. The situation in Europe is very similar: children access the internet from multiple locations and use different devices, particularly smartphones, but also fixed and portable computers, tablets and games consoles.
Although children and adolescents are digital pioneers, the range of activities they perform online seems to be rather limited. From a research conducted in 2016 in South Africa, Chile and Bulgaria, from the Unicef Innocenti Research Center, the London School of Economics and the EU Kids Online network, children surf online mainly to have fun and communicate.
In particular, teenagers love social media on mobile to be able to communicate with their peers in peace, often in the privacy of their room or from a friend’s house. The result is more personal, more private and less controlled online access and therefore less secure.
The Unicef report in fact shows how the Internet increases the vulnerability of young people to a variety of risks, including access to harmful content, cyber-bullying and misuse of their personal information and images.
The data are clear: in 2016, a total of 57,335 URLs (web address) contained pedo-pornographic material. Of these, 60% were hosted on servers located in Europe and 37% in North America. 53% of children abused and exploited to produce this content are 10 years or less. The number of images of children aged 11 to 15 is increasing: from 30% in 2015 to 45% in 2016.
A call for security against the risks of the digital world
Unfortunately, too little has been done to protect young people from the risks of the digital world and to increase their access to secure online content. “Only collective action by governments, the private sector, children’s organizations, academics, families – reads the report of the international association for children – can make digital space more accessible and secure for children”.
First of all to be regulated is the market of toys and technological devices for children and adolescents. In recent years, the iPhone, iPod and iPad, equipped with technologies initially intended for adults have become the most desired toys by young people. Children play with tablets, smartphones and other talking devices even before learning to walk or express themselves. In this perspective, the very poor regulation in the sector, only helps to accelerate the continuous innovation of toy manufacturers and the technology industry, which proceeds faster than the parents can understand, consumer groups can serve and governments can legislate. From the intelligent toys that listen to the children while they play, to the usual use of Amazon Echo and the great amount of software and hardware used around them, even the youngest children live in a world that is always connected. This raises important questions about the invasion of privacy and security at home and online, as well as serious concerns about what companies can do with information recorded by toys, how such information can be used and protected and who can access it. On the other hand, parents and even teachers often do not have the tools to protect children from the possible risks that could run in the network or to teach them to have a critical thinking on the use of new technologies. It is no coincidence that in the Unicef report to the question “How did you learn to use the Internet?” 42% of the children replied that they had learned on their own, while 39% – mostly young people living in low-income countries – answered having learned from friends or brothers.
At the same time, even the school seems not to keep up with the times: teenagers have declared, in fact, that the use of technology in schools is significantly behind the digital practice outside school hours.
Signs of change
Although there is still a lot to be done about the “digital” addiction of children and adolescents, some signs of change seem to be coming. In Europe and the United States, arguments on the smarthphone and social dependence of children and teenagers, often related to the increase in depression and suicides, are growing
It’s dated few days ago the letter sent to Apple by two of its major shareholders, the manager Jana partners and the California Calstrs teacher pension fund, in which the company is urged to take countermeasures to prevent children and adolescents become “junkies” of smartphones. Also in the letter, promptly intercepted and published by the Wall Street Journal, it is asked to provide precise guidelines to parents and to develop software that will help the “parental control”.
At the beginning of December Facebook also tackled this issue, introducing “Messenger Kids” into the US market, an app that allows you to exchange messages from an early age, but under parental control.
Has also made news the choice of the French government to ban smartphones from all primary and secondary schools of First Instance. In an interview with Le Figaro, the head of the Ministry of Education, announced that “In nine months the phones will have to be turned off as soon as they have passed the school door and not just during the lessons”.
At the same time, projects and courses aimed at parents and trainers are becoming increasingly frequent, with the aim of reflecting on the implications of the use of new technologies among children, promoting a modulated exposure or even a detoxification.
La Détox Digitale des enfants by Bloom
Ocarina was born choosing to say no to video, web connectivity and touch display. A mission supported and shared also by the realities with which it collaborates. First of all “Bloom – the radio des enfants” that in these days is proposing a nice and certainly useful initiative aimed at parents who feel the need to start a “digital diet” for themselves and their children. It is a program that aims to free children from the screens: in February 2018, every day for a month will be suggested not only games, shows, culinary recipes, dances to share with the family, but also information, tips for a life without a screen… or almost. If you are interested and would like more information visit the Bloom fb page
“Help me do it alone.” On this principle are based the methods of active education that the child does not have to be spectator of the learning process but protagonist.
Through experience, space exploration, building and destroying, relationship with others, the little one will have the opportunity to become a free man and with his own critical thinking.
In fact, Maria Montessori, the founder of modern pedagogy and Active Education in Italy, supports the importance of educating the child to independence and autonomy. This does not mean leaving him free to do whatever he wants, but to help him do his experiences, discover and acquire knowledge and skills.
The activity of the child thus becomes the central point of the educational process, as well as the environment and educational materials are of crucial importance.
Here are some principles inspired by an Active child’s Education:
The educator must observe and never intervene
The task of parents and educators is to help them accomplish their own achievements as they learn to walk, run, and wash. “The master must minimize his intervention. It must be like a guardian angel, who watches for the child not to be disturbed in his free activity. (M. Montessori “Educating Freedom”)
Educational environments must be child-friendly
The school environment must be welcoming and familiar. Inside all the furniture and objects (chairs, tables, sinks …) must be modeled and used according to the needs of the small. It is important that spaces are open so that children can move easily and autonomously, but also interact with the outside environment.
Educate children with the right teaching materials
The teaching materials should be simple even if specially studied, such as objects to be assembled, ribbons, cards that can promote the intellectual development of the child and encourage self-correction of the error.
Educational materials must also educate the senses, develop motor skills, logical-mathematical, linguistic and musical skills.
Game is the baby’s work
The game plays an important role in helping children to be active, to learn to make choices, and to increase their mastery of their actions. As children grow, they have to experience a wide range of disciplines (art, music, language, science, mathematics, social relationships); Each of these matters is important for the development of a complex and integrated brain.
The toys must be simple, usable in autonomy, so very safe too. Through these, children learn to know themselves, others, and the world around them.
Active education prefers individual and free games to collective ones though supervised by the educator. The child must be free to do so while respecting the order of things and be able to collaborate with others by following the method of mutual teaching.
The child must be in contact with nature
It is important to make the child in contact with nature as much as possible, because the feeling of nature grows with attendance and exercise. A child left in the midst of nature pulls out muscle energies higher than what parents think.
Children should approach music to preschool age
According to Maria Montessori, music promotes autonomy in the small, the spirit of collaboration and participation, respect for each other, freedom. This is because it has the ability to open up the heart and make it more sensitive and human.
Compared to the language that tends to create walls between people, music unites all men into a single large community and must therefore remain a good accessible for everyone.
Every day children are fighting with their own shadows and for this reason many people think is useful to avoid other difficulties to them, making children growing up in a sweetened world without confrontation with fear. In some cases parents also demonize folk tales that speak of bad, orcs or monstrous characters that could increase the sense of insecurity and anxiety of children. Over the years many stories, considered too sad and bloody, have even been rewritten and transformed into colorful and sparkling tales where the characters have happy families and happy lives.
Fairy tales, however, are a metaphor of life and how can be denied to a child that death exists, as well as pain and difficult times to overcome?
Actually fear is a primary emotion and probably has a self-protective function which is useful to the growth of the child, because it activates in him behaviors that defend it from potential dangers: for example, if a child would not be afraid of the dark would not be held back by walk in unsafe and dark places, risking easily to get hurt.
The various fears of children, during their growth, are potentially infinite and depend largely on individual histories, but there are a number of fears that may be considered typical of developmental age (Quadrio Aristarchi, Puggelli, 2006): separation, darkness, death, abandonment, snakes, ghosts, monsters, doctor, etc. (To learn more we recommend the article: Quali sono le paure dei bambini …)
Precisely for this reason it is essential that a parent will help the child to recognize and understand their fears helping him to externalize and to overcome them. It is also important to understand when, behind some fears, are hiding real needs and requests for help.
Many times the fears of the children also end up to distress parents and often these are the ones that feed them through the mechanism called “emotional contagion.”
If parents are frightened, the child will be much more scared because he learns and reinforces that stimulous is really dangerous; if parents minimize the events on the contrary help him to frame the fact into perspective (Quadrio Aristarchi, Puggelli, 2006).
The storytelling of the fairy tales is definitely one of the most effective among the various methods recommended by child psychologists to help children deal with their fears.
The famous psychologist Bruno Bettelheim argued that telling scary stories to children was important because it helped them to exorcise the anguish and to disclose it externally.
Through stories children learn to live the strongest emotions in a secure manner, without being directly involved, and enjoying the reassuring proximity of a parent. At the same time they learn that, as in fairy tales the heroes get the kingdom and the happiness, even in real life you can overcome adversity with strength, intelligence and courage.
In almost all the folk tales we find some common elements as fear, courage, defeat of the danger, happy ending.
Bad characters in folktales embodies precisely the danger that will be defeated by the bravery and intelligence. Stories always have a happy ending and all the good characters are stronger and happier than before.
“Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”
~ G. K. Chesterton, writer
We also wish to pay tribute to Dario Fo, the great artist, Nobel prize, passed away a few days ago.
We chose to remember him with “Ho visto un re”, a true masterpiece written by Fo and sung by Jannacci.