The “tablet” family

In more and more families conversation at meals is withering away because everyone is busy with an electronic device.

mk. A family of four in a hotel dining room: mother and father, a son about the age of 12, a baby sitting at the table in a stroller. The breakfast takes place very quietly; we cannot hear at the next table anything but the constant blaring of some silly programme for babies. This blaring comes from a tablet that the mother carefully placed in front of the baby. While the baby silently stares at the screen, the remaining members of the family are eating their breakfast, equally soundless. Namely, they do not talk to each other, but everyone stares at their own screen. Sometimes the father talks on his mobile phone. The mother and son do not take part in that either. They all seem turned off, bored. “All three are lonely together” writes Moritz Nestor about a similar “digitised” family (Current Concerns No 15/16 2015) and elaborates what it means for infants and for their personal development when they are emotionally abandoned in an irrational, not explicable and tangible world, instead of experiencing relationships and emotional echo in the real world. The neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer points to “digital dementia” in this context. At the “Kölner Bildungs­kongress” “Lernen erfolgreich gestalten” (educational congress in Cologne, “Make learning successful”), he postulates: “It is criminal to put babies before screens, and anybody promoting this makes children knowingly stupid.”1 In an interview Spitzer states, “this is after all about the most valuable companies in the world and their turnover: Google, Microsoft, Apple, IBM, Facebook. Since every household is equipped with three computers, the challenge now is that schools and kindergartens also acquire information technology. And this is what I advise against. […] Computers in schools are learning prevention equipment.”
Question of the journalist: “If the digital media are really so dangerous – isn’t it sensible that children learn to deal with these dangers?”
Spitzer: “No, it hurts them! Alcohol is part of our culture. Alcohol is addictive. Do we therefore practice alcohol education in kindergartens and primary schools? No! Because the consumption of alcohol is harmful for the development of young people. And it is also proven that early consumption of media affects them. We know that media consumption up to the second, third birthday leads to developmental language disorders. We know that media consumption in kindergartens significantly adversely affects the educational biography and that it leads to attention problems at school. We know that a play-station in primary school leads to school problems and a massive decline in reading and writing. We know that a computer in the bedroom – shown, for instance, by the PISA data – impairs school performance. All this is supported by good scientific studies.”2
However, this family practices this atomised media consumption at each meal and exposes the baby to it. The baby seems well provided for, it is always with the parents, it has a child-friendly seating, its parents also take care of its “entertainment”. The family does not argue, obviously all agree, at least with regard to how common meals should pass. There is no reason for disagreement since they do not talk to each other. But is that harmony?

The significance of eating at the family table

Do this parents know what they are doing and what they are missing? Everyone needs relationships, conversation with the fellow human being, the exchange of ideas, responses. How much more does a baby need this? Communal meals at the family table would be the best opportunity. Alfred Adler already emphasised how important it is that parents create a good family atmosphere, a friendly conversation for the whole family at the dinner table. The family table is an irreplaceable opportunity for the development of relations and the community in the family. Adler warned against spoiling everything with a bad mood – for example, by talking about problems in school. The child then wishes that the meal was over as quickly as possible. Adler did not know today’s media, but what he says about the formation of the community is today still valid, because it belongs to the nature of man. This is not fundamentally changed by the new media. Talking to each other remains indispensable. Adler states: “Speaking establishes significant bonds between people and also creates coexistence. The psychology of speech and language is only understood if we take the idea of the community as a starting point.”3

The country needs new media

Actually, the knowledge of the importance of creating relationships especially with babies should be common knowledge. Obviously it is not. Family scenes like the one described here can be encountered virtually anywhere.
This ignorance could be easily remedied: every day there could be small contributions on this topic to educate parents, on the radio, on television, on Facebook, with Apps. Most parents want the best for their child, many would take the message seriously and draw the consequences. This way, one could make good use of the media. But the mainstream media obviously show little interest in such meaningful information.
Maybe we need to take the initiative ourselves: produce relevant posts, place, maybe even develop a channel. Why not? After all, the revolution of the Internet has meant that more and more people turn away from the mainstream media and start looking for alternative coverage. So why not pick up on such issues?     •

1    Focus, 30 March 2009.
2    Interview with Manfred Spitzer in Kölner Stadt­anzeiger from  9 August 2012
3    Alfred Adler. Kindererziehung, Frankfurt/M 1976, p. 70

The German Government advertises computer games for small children

mk. Dorothee Bär is a passionate computer game player – and member of the “Bundestag” (Lower House of German Parliament) for the party CSU and a Secretary of State for the Ministry of Transport. She has already organised two LAN parties in the house of the German Parliament. She advocates offensively for “children to be introduced to digital games at the age of three”1. Last autumn she organised a conference with the topic “Digital games in children‘s hands”. At the podium there were only those in favour of this concept. Bär works closely with the representatives of the game industry: in the foundation for Digital Game Culture are the representatives of the union of game manufacturers, ‘Game‘ and the Association for interactive entertainment software. Besides them, representatives of the Federal Ministry of Transport and for Family Affairs as well as members of public authorities, are members of this foundation. In this way, there is a tight weave of politics and the game industry, a weave, which in other areas would lead to an outcry in the media. This foundation can get its way so that the German computer game prize is no longer awarded only for “culturally and educationally valuable computer games”, it is “also real games” will be awarded – killer games. “Culturally valuable” is only a ‘can‘-criteria. Even digital games for small children must not be “educationally valuable” in order to get an award.
Bär reveals this about herself, that she engages herself “with great passion, encountering prejudices against computer games”.2 For this purpose, she founded the German computer game prize. This was the first step to turn killer games and training programmes in torturing and killing into “culturally valuable” goods. Now it is permitted that this desguise be taken off, now everything can receive an award, the main thing is that it is “well made” – and that means in this area, as much as possible realistic, naturalistic and brutal.
France takes other steps
By the way: France takes very different steps: “the broadcasting of television programmes for children under the age of three was made forbidden. “Television consumption for infants is highly detrimental”, decided the French media authority, CSA (Conseil supérieur de l‘audiovisuel). In addition, for programmes for children at the age of three or older, a required warning has been introduced by the CSA: “Television can impede children in their development. It can cause passivity, speech problems, nervousness, sleep disruption, concentration difficulties and dependency.“3

1    Die Welt from 10. April 2016
2    Dorothee Bär. Why computer games are good for Germany. Focus online from 12. April 2014.
3    Andrea Hennis in FOCUS from 30. March 2009