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Álvaro Bilbao opens the seventh edition of the cycle ´The adventure of educating in the family´ with a conference on the use of new technologies and children.
Neuropsychologist and psychotherapist. ´New technologies in the developing brain of our children´ is the title of the lecture that Álvaro Bilbao delivers on Friday at 7.30 pm at the Santa Eulària Conference Center in the seventh edition of the cycle ´The adventure of educating as a family ´. The expert advocates delaying the use of new technologies because the brain must first be taught "to think, to be attentive, to imagine."
NIEVES GARCÍA GÁLVEZ | IBIZA -How do new technologies influence children's brain development?
-The first thing I always say is that new technologies are positive for society and something important. However, in the developing brain of children, and especially the youngest, research is emerging that speaks of its effect can be negative.
-In what sense?
-Firstly, they can reduce your ability to have self-control. New technologies, especially video games or constantly looking at things on the Internet, make the child constantly stimulated and have less opportunity to exercise self-control, because all control is carried out by the machine. Another effect is that if the stimuli to which they are exposed are very intense, very fast, as in video games, the child may lose interest in things that are a little slower or less intense, such as the teacher, the blackboard, a book or play in the street with friends; the child gets used to having very fast stimuli and when they slow down he starts to get bored.
-Up to what age do you think children should be away from mobiles, tablets or computers?
-Undoubtedly, and according to the American Society of Pediatrics and the Mayo Clinic, up to three years should not be in contact with these technologies at any time. That image we have of a child of a year or two who does not know how to speak and who barely walks but begins to run his finger over the tablet should be erased from our culture because parents who have in mind that it is positive and very beneficial are very wrong; we know that it is precisely the opposite.
-And from there?
-I'm going a little further. I think it is important for children to spend the first six years of their life without technology because it is a very important age in the development of imagination, which if it does not develop in those years, then it costs a lot. The more time they spend playing what we call free play - which does not go hand in hand with another person or with a device or technology - the more they develop their imagination. Boredom is the mother of the imagination and if the child is constantly entertained he does not have time to get bored or to imagine or create his own worlds in which to play.
-But today is it possible to keep children away from technology?
-Yes. I give talks in many places and there are many parents who have been clear about it for a long time. Let's see, it's important to balance. I am not saying that you go on vacation with the child, take a photo with your mobile and at night you cannot show it to them, that is ridiculous, because it is good that they see photos, it helps them build their memory. In the same way that it is normal for us to put grandmother on the phone. But we should limit as much as possible those times that the child is lying on the sofa, passing his finger in front of the screen. And it is achieved with a magic word that is 'no'.
-This goes against what is currently being sold that today's children are digital natives ...
-That phrase is basically a myth because the digital world is not a language in itself. When the child plays with a device, he is not activating the areas of the brain that have to do with language but with the movement of the hand and vision. Yes, it is positive to teach programming, the subject of robotics, because we are teaching children that language and we are helping them to think in a different language. But just sitting around playing a video game doesn't mean it's digital native; You give a 70-year-old lady an iPad and in two or three days she is able to send emails, WhatsApp and search for things on the Internet because it is simple and intuitive.
-And that children demand technology very early is because it is what they see in their homes, in their parents?
-Yes. Children have developed a series of neurons called mirror neurons and what they do is imitate everything they see in their parents. The more time parents spend in front of the iPad, the easier it is for the child to try to play with that technology. They also demand it a lot because their friends have it and because it is a very interesting stimulus for them. It's like Coca Cola: if you give it to a three-year-old child, he will ask you the next day and the next, because it has a lot of sugar, caffeine, which stimulates him and he loves it; But that he loves it does not mean that we have to give it to him every day because it is very harmful to him.
-But is there an advantage in the use of new technologies in young children?
-No. There are studies that say that it can increase processing speed, make you have a faster attention, but there are few, and there are so many that go in the opposite direction of these ... Also, having a faster attention is not necessarily good: to be Combat pilots that can be beneficial, but nowadays what they ask of executives, of the elderly, is to have a calmer attention, which allows you to be focused for longer. And having a faster attention also implies that the child is not able to wait long enough for the stimuli that interest to appear.
-Despite all this, it is fashionable to soon introduce technology in schools with computers and digital whiteboards. Is it correct?
-It is different to use new technologies as an educational support than for the child to be at home sitting on the sofa. I defend that the child should not spend the afternoon on the sofa using the iPad, that it is better that he is getting bored, painting, doing things that come out of his head, and not the computer. Even so, there are studies that say that a child will learn mathematics much earlier by playing with beads, with chickpeas, than by using computer programs that are designed to learn.
-Because the brain joins a lot the physical part and the cognitive part. That is, it handles both parts and the reasoning is closely linked to the part of the mobility of the hand. So, if the child does not have to physically make a counting, touching movement, it is more difficult for him to learn all these things. I am in favor of a methodology based on physical contact with objects, especially the first years, such as Montessori, to another with the best device programmed to study mathematics. Then later, it is wonderful that they are in class and that they can study for projects, do a work on the discovery of America and are able to look on the Internet.
- Precisely a few weeks ago a news item explained that most of the children of employees of large technology companies in Silicon Valley study in schools without computers or electronic devices.
-These directors take their children to a Waldorf-type school, where there are no electronic devices and they learn everything in a more traditional way. It is that with the fact, for example, of something as simple as sitting at the table and not getting up until you finish eating, tolerance to frustration, self-control, is being cultivated, which is one of the brain capacities that most influences in a certain Selectivity note that the child will get 15 years later. So see if those traditional things are important. Now we are putting them back in value, but for a long time it has been thought that going faster, that the child learns to speak seven languages at the age of five, is more beneficial. We now know that a series of steps have to be followed.
-And isn't it wasting the potential of technology to introduce it later?
-From my point of view, no, because first we have to teach the brain to think, to be attentive, to imagine, and then we can teach it to master the tools it has at its disposal. If we introduce technologies too early, the child will be able to connect with them very quickly but will be disconnected from other things more important for their development.
-What keys would you give parents to help develop their children's brain potential?
-Go little by little, help the brain to mature at its own pace and know that your child will bear fruit when he has to.
And something very important that they have to do when they are with the children, regardless of whether they leave the tablet to them at three, four or five years old, is to teach them to have self-control, limited times, so that when they say 'until now', the child be able to release it without yelling or getting angry. In that electronic devices can help. In fact, there are authors who say that it is better for the child to start using them at three years of age with very clear rules, training self-control, than to start at eight or ten years old and start training there.
-But setting times is complicated if parents use technologies so that children are entertained while they take care of other things ...
-Effectively. The devices are not only a reinforcement for children, but a huge reinforcement for parents, because children often demand attention, honey, that we talk to them ... Like when we take a long car trip, they put the television in the back and so on. The child is calm and the father is relaxed. It is also important that the child experiences frustration, learn to control it, get bored and wait for that moment to pass.
-Parents rely on this ...
-It is a reinforcement for parents and this is one of the things that has made technology so popular and so widespread that children are plugged in all day. Many parents deceive themselves because they say: ´No, I leave my son for half an hour´, and in reality they are connected not only to the tablet, mobile phone or video games, but also to television for two or three hours a day. And we know that this is related to a higher probability of having attention deficit, childhood obesity, childhood depression, behavior problems, and a higher prevalence of school failure.