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No Smartphones for Kids?

Since the offers of many media are aimed at a younger and younger audience, media literacy for kids is becoming increasingly important. Many parents consider it important that their children get accustomed to the new media as early as possible. For example, some parents think it is self-evident that children at school are not just equipped with a cheap phone but with a smartphone to make a call home in an emergency or, at home respectively, tablets are available to kids to surf the internet or watch favorite shows.

Smartphone know how...
Smartphone know how...
©: Aliaksei Lasevich - Fotolia

This trend, however, is not without danger, warns the Professional Association of Child and Adolescent Physicians (BVKJ). The doctors warn of “overexploitation” of smartphones and tablets. This has not just adverse effects on the mental development but also on the health of children. "We paediatricians are convinced of significant health- and psychological impairments. We see this daily in our practices," said Till Reckert from BVKJ.

What are the dangers of tablets and smartphones?

One of those threats of the electronic gadgets, so the physicians say, is the neglect of children because parents sometimes rather spend time with their gadgets than with their children. The doctors observed in children significant signs of overload and headaches, as well as an increase in mental disorders such as ADHD. They paediatricians say that these health problems directly relate to the increasing use of new media. Because: "Preschoolers must learn to cope with their bodies, their feelings, the world and other people in an ever freer manner. Screens are only a hindrance for this process to take place." says Till Beckert.

The fundamental problem, so the doctor, is that children are missing the necessary experience to deal with the technology correctly. The result: The children are overwhelmed by the countless opportunities and information they can get with the devices. Therefore, there is a great danger for dependencies to arise.

Explore the digital world early?

Youthwork	in former times - without smartphones
Youthwork in former times - without smartphones

Till Reckert clearly rejected the opinion that children are introduced to the digital technology early, to meet the requirements in school and their professional life later on. In their practices, they experience the opposite on a daily base. However, Susanne Rieschel, a representative of the initiative "Schau hin! (Look!)" says, a general ban is not the solution either. "Parents must actively support and accompany their children's use of smartphones and tablets." This also includes establishing clear rules for when and how long the device can be used and what can be watched. Stephan Pfisterer, education expert of the digital association Bitkom maintains, under certain conditions, the mobile devices can be conducive. "Especially if they are interactive and offer a learning curve." After all, this way children would have to deal intensively with the respective content and make decisions, enabling them to learn through play.

What was it like before?

Today’s children can hardly imagine what life was like, without a phone, just 20 years ago. You had to write letters, make expensive phone calls or personally meet someone. Inconceivably! Awkward! Time killing! Flatly, our parents lived in the Stone Age!

However, what were the benefits? You learned to meet each other - face to face, with a personal exchange. Today children would rather hide behind their smartphones and send messages. Relationship poverty - although some have hundreds of followers or "virtual friends", however, most of them they never meet face to face.

Moreover, then there is always this glance on the smartphone. “Did I get a message? Did anybody write to me?” An immediate response follows and everything else falls aside. At birthday parties these days: everybody is sitting around and in one or the other way busy with his mobile. Somehow strange…

Youth with a smartphone
Youth with a smartphone

Make the test in the youth group

It is tough for the kids to part with their mobile even for 1-2 hours. How much harder is this when the smartphone has to stay at home at a holiday camp? For some already reason enough to not participate at the camp.

None the less, give it a try. Rehearse with the kids and go through different scenarios on how that could work. What new experiences are possible? Do the kids themselves already realize how dependent they are on their mobiles? An interesting test – and not just for the kids. Even for parents, even for yourself, the youth worker. Because you should lead by example - otherwise it will not work.

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