“Why can silence in schools and playgrounds be so worrying?”

The 28th episode of Isto Não é Pera Doce! focuses on the issue of banning (or not banning) mobile phones in schools: how should we, as parents and educators, go about educating children and young people about the moderate use of mobile phones?

“Why can silence in schools and playgrounds be so worrying?”
Fígura de ondas técnologicas azul

Vera Ramalho, director of Psiquilibrios in Braga, is our guest to discuss this issue. She has a Master's degree in Psychology from the School of Psychology at the University of Minho and is a full member of the Order of Portuguese Psychologists, specialising in Psychotherapy and Clinical and Health Psychology. She has also published several books and scientific articles, including children's books. 

From Vera's point of view, it's all about balance, because everything that is spoken, talked about and explained has a greater impact. Banning the use of mobile phones in the classroom is not the answer, not least because technology can play an important role in the classroom for some subjects. But in the playground, it's important for children to play. Listen to the perspective of this testimony:

Why is the silence in schools and playgrounds so worrying? 

The uncontrolled way in which children are introduced to mobile phones today, without prior preparation, may be one of the reasons for the silence in schools. But if uncontrolled use is seen as a problem, it's important to understand the context in which this lack of control applies, because technology in the classroom can be beneficial to the subjects being taught. That's why the term "prohibition" deserves some attention.  

When we talk about using mobile phones, we're also talking about technology, and technology should be seen as something that benefits us. And I think this conclusion is quite normal. When I talk about bans, I mean bans in the playground, because I think that mobile phones, computers, tablets, you name it, can play an important role in the classroom in some subjects.

In this sense, it's important to moderate use when it's inappropriate or not appropriate. For this process, our guest argues that there should be a dialogue between parents and school, where the child and/or young person understands the times, moments or periods when they can or should use their mobile phone, and those when they shouldn't or can't. We need to educate in this sense so that we can stop the lack of socialisation of children and young people, so that they don't focus on themselves. We have to educate in this sense, so that we can put the brakes on the lack of socialisation of children and young people, so that they don't focus on themselves, don't just concentrate on scrolling during the break and start to put themselves in the other person's shoes. Because they believe that "there's time for everything", but in the meantime the bell has already rung.

They [the child] think they have time to be on their mobile phone when they leave the classroom because they have a thirst to be on their mobile phone when they leave the classroom, it seems like the world is moving and they can't keep up. So the child picks up the mobile phone and says "I've got time, I'm going to stay here for a bit, then I'm going to play". The next thing they know, it's ringing, there's no time to play. And what happens? The mobile phone ends up taking precedence over the game. And that is very bad. Children need to play, they need to socialise, they need to interact, and all that has been lost.

The centralisation of the child or adolescent in himself or herself is just one of the consequences that Vera points out in relation to the excessive use of mobile phones. The truth is that, according to the study "Children's digital life in times of covid-19" - carried out by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, with results for Portugal - we can see that children have more digital skills, but spend too much time on the computer: an average of 7 hours a day. An excessive amount of time, according to the World Health Organisation's guidelines.

And that's too much. The WHO has even issued an opinion pointing this out. They even give guidelines for the maximum number of hours children should spend at the computer. And 6 hours is absurd. Even toddlers, and even from my clinical experience, three-year-olds who spend more than an hour with a tablet in front of them, where their parents say they're watching age-appropriate games, but the children are moving, they know how to move.

 And all these behaviours have consequences, both at a physical and motor level, and at an emotional and psychological level.

The issue of neck and posture, the children's own posture, takes on another dimension. There's the effect on sleep. The effect on learning, on concentration. Then we get into the more internal parts of mental health: more irritability, anxiety. [...] There's also more distraction. As I mentioned, low social skills, lack of empathy, which children need to develop, but because they're so stuck, they don't socialise, they don't develop those social skills of understanding the other person's point of view, of being in the other person's shoes. [...] They move less, they're very still when they're on their mobile phones in the playground.

Is there an ideal age for parents to allow their children to use a mobile phone? 

But is there an ideal age to introduce children and young people to mobile phones? Can parents and educators slow down the use of technology when it is increasingly present and dominating the development and delivery of information? According to our guest, it would be after the end of primary school.

I don't think so until the end of primary school. Then there's a question that parents ask, which I think can be pertinent and I understand, which is "do I call my child at the end of school to pick them up". I think that could be the case, although it's all very relative in that there are children who are more able to use it and others who are not. There are schools that have already banned it. Some schools have already banned it. I think it has to be done with a certain balance, with the participation of parents and students.

There is no right formula for defining the use of digital equipment, what should be done is to prepare and prevent its use, in conversations between parents and children, between students and teachers, between parents and teachers. There needs to be a balance that allows education to take place with the presence of technology, but without overusing it in a way that could be addictive in the short, medium or long term.

I think it has to be done in a balanced way, with the involvement of parents and pupils. I'm not saying that mobile phones shouldn't be switched off in certain situations, for example on the playground. But I think there has to be a balance. Some discussion, some preparation, some prevention of use, there are many things here.

This is one of the biggest challenges for parents and educators. How do we strike a balance? On the one hand, there are huge demands on parents to stick to dinner, bath time and the end of the day. On the other hand, the school has to find a model for talking to parents to discuss the issue and share some features and tricks that will allow them to work together to control the use by children and young people, because after all it's at school that this happens most of the time.

You have to control it. Sometimes people are afraid, parents themselves are afraid, that they're being authoritarian, but that's not the case. A young child, for example, up to the age of 7, 8, 10, 12, parents really need to have more control over what they see on their mobile phone, where they go, because they can go to sites that are not at all suitable for a child. So there has to be that control. There is even a parental function on mobile phones and tablets - I think it has a different name - parental control, so it has to be activated. There are parents who still don't know about it. I think parents should also listen to the school and make a decision together. And of course the school has an important role to play here, because it's within the school that this is happening. And if a school decides to ban it, I think parents should accept that and talk to their children at home.

Prevention and vigilance, both on the part of parents and educators, are Vera's two pieces of practical advice.

Watch the full episode on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes or Google Podcasts.



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