Parents, educators and health officials are battling overuse of screens as internet access grows in schools. According to a 2022 study by the Internet Management Committee in Brazil, which mapped digital inclusion among children and adolescents in the country, Internet access in the classroom rose from 82% to 87% from 2019 to 2020. be positive and has been gaining space on the public agenda, but it raises a warning reinforced by specialists: it is necessary to regulate the time that children spend connected.
The United States has been discussing norms to moderate the use of social networks among the public. In May of this year, physician Vivek Murthy, the highest health authority in the country, prepared a 25-page document warning about the risks of excessive use of networks in the age group, especially when it comes to mental health.
“We still don’t have enough evidence to determine whether social media is safe for children and teens,” he wrote.
The Swedish government took even tougher positions. The country announced that in 2023 it would invest the equivalent of 60 million euros to accelerate the return of textbooks to schools, in order to reduce the time children spend in front of tablets and computers.
For psychologist Cecília Antipoff, PhD in Education from UFMG (Federal University of Minas Gerais), parents must understand that screens can be a good resource, but they should not be seen as their main resource.
The specialist monitors cases in which there is a preference for experiences in digital interfaces, often full of filters. Children tend to look at that universe as if it were real life and still feel empty when they are away from it, she says. “I even heard a six-year-old girl say that when she doesn’t have a cell phone, she feels like she doesn’t exist.”
According to the psychologist, the incidence of so-called digital abandonment is increasing, when those responsible neglect what the little ones follow on the network. The internet has become the first contact of children and adolescents with different subjects, and the lack of dialogue can cause frustration and lead to wrong decisions.
The study by the Internet Management Committee in Brazil showed that 55% of children and adolescents look for information about food on the internet and 36% go online in search of exercises and ways to “get in shape”. In addition, 12% of girls and 7% of boys have already come across content on ways to commit suicide.
With four children, publicists from Belo Horizonte Bernardo Carmo Krauss, 46, and Maira Luiza da Fonseca e Corrêa, 43, are against screens in schools and discourage the use of electronics among their children, who are between 4 and 11 years old.
“The TV, for example, is in a room of the house and not in the center. The time to watch it is restricted and the remote control is divided in that time”, says the father.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that children should not be exposed to any type of screen until they are two years old. From 2 to 5, no more than one hour a day should pass, and from 5 to 5, the limit is two hours a day.
The excessive use of tablets, smartphones and other platforms among children and adolescents brings various damages, says neuropediatrician Anderson Nitsche, professor at PUC-PR (Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná).
In early childhood, when the individual begins to recognize the senses, develop speech and the ability to move, the predominance of the digital environment can hinder cognitive and motor progress.
An article published in the Swedish journal Ata Pediátrica shows that delay in language development is frequent in babies who are passively exposed to screens for prolonged periods. “If the problem already disturbs adults, things are even more critical with children, who are developing”, points out Nitsche.
The management of emotions is another compromised point. When they begin to learn to deal with what they feel, children are exposed to algorithms that reward them with short and immediate content, without breaks for reflection. This can interfere with how they deal with frustration and react to real-life problems.
Exaggerated exposure to screens also leads to a sedentary lifestyle, increasing the risk of chronic conditions such as obesity, in addition to impacting sleep quality, as stated in a document by the SBP (Brazilian Society of Pediatrics). The blue light emitted by cell phones and tablets interferes with the production of melatonin, an important hormone for regulating the biological cycle of wakefulness and sleep, which can cause sleeping difficulties and even night nightmares.
A longitudinal study carried out in Australia, which evaluated children between 10 and 11 years old, showed that the type of content consumed also makes a difference.
“It’s important to always have an adult who monitors not only how much time the child spends in front of the screens, but also what he sees”, says the neuropediatrician.
Real estate business consultant Brunna Stavis, 42, from Curitiba, has always set certain periods for her son, Arthur de Bortoli, 13, to access the internet. Adherent to the idea of limiting the screen at home and at school, she also sought to encourage children to play sports from an early age. The recipe led the boy to make videos on the internet about football.
“We impose rules and monitor everything that is done. Today he plays football, produces content about sports, has many views and says he wants to be a sports journalist”, says Brunna.
Experts reinforce the importance of building solid family ties and closely monitoring what the child produces and follows on the internet.
“Prohibiting for the sake of prohibiting is not a good way”, says the neuropediatrician. “It is necessary to understand and show the little ones what is at stake, with a rational and decisive dialogue.”