Screens impair the development of children and youths

gl. Francisco Villar is a clinical psychologist and has been working with families of suicidal children and adolescents at the Sant Joan de Déu Hospital in Barcelona for ten years. On 22 October last year, his detailed article entitled “Mobile phones must be banned until the age of 16” appeared in the widely read Spanish daily newspaper «El País». This article certainly contributed to the fact that two months later the Spanish Minister of Education called on the regional education ministries to take action against the use of mobile phones in schools.
  Villar explains that the emergency treatment of children and adolescents at his hospital due to suicide attempts quadrupled between 2014 and 2022, from 250 cases to 1,000 cases per year. This was despite the fact that numerous emergency plans and a dedicated emergency number 024 had been set up. How is it possible that a young person can go so far as to want to end their own life? In recent years, the influence of screens has come to the fore as an important factor. “No, the screens did not invent suicide, they are not responsible for its existence. But in childhood and adolescence they seem to be one of the factors responsible for its increase, linked to the increasingly poor mental health of youths, the new forms of violence to which they are exposed and also, and this is very important, to the loss of skills for coping with life. While suicide prevention is about giving children strategies to make the world worth living in, the screen deprives many of them of the tools and the opportunity to acquire them. And that, in my opinion, is the hidden cause”. The young people tell him about cyberbullying, sexual aggression and the humiliation caused by being spread on social media. They are encouraged to commit suicide on countless social networks. In addition, he also sees a deeper problem: “We are increasingly noticing feelings of emptiness among young people, a completely passive attitude towards the world and an inability to develop solutions for their situation. They are waiting for some kind of magical solution from outside, apart from their discouragement, their lack of joy in life and the desire to have new experiences; they are saturated with pointless spectacle, without content, without meaning”.
  A large number of studies from the USA and Europe now confirm developmental delays in young children. Villar gives the example of the ability to wait, which needs to be trained. The screen intervenes in the development of one’s own abilities to cope with everyday life. This also applies to boredom, which Villar sees as a great source of imagination and a driving force for creativity. The screen thus becomes the greatest enemy of the imagination. Screens are also not conducive to friendships and relationships. “In childhood and adolescence, all that time spent staring at a screen is a missed opportunity to develop social skills, a missed opportunity to develop empathy”.
  In Francisco Villar’s opinion, the best and simplest measure to prevent suicides in childhood and adolescence is to ban the use of mobile phones until the age of 16, although they should also be used restrictively between the ages of 16 and 18. “A child before the age of six should never have access to a screen, and from that age should spend no more than half an hour a day on it. Never before school, never at least two hours before bedtime, never in multitasking mode (eating, travelling, doing homework …)”.  •

Source: El País of 22 October 2023;
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