Why the cell phone shouldn't be used as a babysitter: the risks

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Cell phones to children: the risks not to be underestimated

It happens when you are at home, you are preparing dinner and at the same time starting the washing machine, or at the restaurant (before the current quarantine), when the parents are still at the appetizer and the children are already showing signs of impatience, but also on public transport , when the little ones are impatient and mum and dad have the impression that everyone is watching them. We all know the risks we run in handing a smartphone to children, but often external circumstances seem to leave us no choice but to let cell phones become babysitters for our children. 

We asked Marta Versiglia, pedagogue of the Psycho-pedagogical Center for education and conflict management to help us understand why and how harmful this improper use of the mobile phone actually is and to give us some practical suggestions to apply in difficult situations.


Smartphones for babies: the risks from 0 to 3 years

The effects of the smartphone on children

Damage caused by mobile phones on children 3 - 6 years old

How to remove cell phones from children

Smartphones for babies: the risks from 0 to 3 years

"Gives 0 to 3 years old video screens should be banned"explains Marta Versiglia. Childhood does not need screens that act as filters, but to live sensory experiences that use all five senses: the child must move, experiment concretely, play, leaf through the pages of a book with his hands. . If you think that all this can be replaced by a video, you make a big mistake. To better explain this concept to parents, I refer to Maria Montessori, who spoke of "intelligence of the hand": touching a button, as in the case of the mobile phone , it is not using a whole hand but a single finger. A key does not replace the sensory experience ".

What happens if we use the smartphone to entertain the little ones?

"If a child stares at a screen for hours, he has no opportunity to develop dexterity. This could lead to great chances of having delays in language and the little one might run into learning disabilities. Parents with 3-year-old children often arrive in my studio who are slow to speak in an understandable way: by deepening the situation with their parents, we understand that they have long been accustomed to using video screens ".

Read also: 10 reasons to ban digital devices for children NOW

The effects of the smartphone on children

"One of the myths to dispel on the subject is that many parents think that it is more difficult and" traumatic "for the child to steal his cell phone rather than leaving him for 2 hours in front of Youtube videos or other entertainment. - continues Marta Versiglia - To create this confusion marketing also contributed: "If you give him a cell phone from an early age, your child will have more chances in life" is the subliminal message.

But the reality is quite different. "For example, if we want our child to learn English, we will have to keep him in the company of children who speak English, find him a real babysitter, in flesh and blood, whether you speak English or sing songs and nursery rhymes in the language: we must not place it in front of the tablet that plays a cartoon in English ".

"To help parents understand the real risks they run, I quote an article by Alberto Oliverio, professor emeritus of Psychobiology at La Sapienza University of the city which appeared in the magazine" Vita e Pensiero "in 2022: the little child who is 1 now in front of the smartphone runs a risk of developing a attention deficit 2 times higher than those who do not look at it ".

What parents can concretely do to avoid this problem

    "With children in the 0-3 range it is important that parents pay attention to how they use technologies themselves: you cannot be seen absorbed by television or mobile phones. Leaving the television on in the background also creates an attention deficit in the child. : cannot concentrate on what he is learning. In fact, at this age they are very attentive to the world around them: a background noise distracts them from their natural learning".
    "If as adults we always show up with a cell phone in hand, it is natural that children will want it" so we avoid checking it every two seconds. It is also important that the parent always holds the phone in his hand and never leaves it in the hands of the child.
    For example, if you use the ploy of showing your child a video doing the aerosol to prevent him from moving excessively, the parent must always hold the phone. After the time of the aerosol, the smartphone is turned off. Of course the child will protest fiercely, but the parent must not give in. The task of educating is up to him ".
Read also: Technology and children: 12 + 1 rules for parents to make their children turn off their screens

Damage caused by mobile phones on children 3 - 6 years old

From the age of three on, other risks must be considered and other rules set.

"Use, even in the 3-6 range, must always be limited because the child continues to learn through direct experiences and sociability. To explain it in a concrete way: you don't need an app that shows children how to cook, they need to experience it through the symbolic game with pots and spoons. The "pretending to", the basis of the symbolic game, only works if you put it into practice, possibly with other children and possibly in the open air ".

Let's not underestimate the impact of blue light: "Never use your smartphone to show bedtime videos: blue light creates neurophysiological disturbances in sleep, and the images children see after dinner have the effect of overexciting them, not reassuring them. For this reason, devices should never be used. technology in their bedroom ".

Then we need some rules, clear and essential and not generic statements such as "stop standing in front of the tablet." The rules must be understandable and precise: no TV in the room, the PC must be kept in a common room and used when there is a parent, there is no need to have personal smartphones up to 11 years old (although it would be better up to 13, first it is sufficient to give the children a cell phone without internet, possibly only with whatsapp, which are on the market). It is assumed that children are never left alone until the age of 10: why should they have a cell phone to be tracked? ".

There should be no such statements as "give me back my cell phone": "the smartphone must always be kept by the parents. If you want to leave the child for a moment to take a picture, you must then remember to take it back immediately".

What if you want to see a cartoon from your smartphone? "You can see him with the child, for a maximum of half an hour. The thing that must absolutely be avoided are video games, because with these you enter the area of ​​the brain responsible for pleasure and can become an addiction ". 

Read also: Learning children, limit the use of tablets and smartphones

How to remove cell phones from children

Once we understand the damages, how can we find an alternative to the smartphone-babysitter?


"If the baby is in the 0-3 range and the mother has to cook, just place him on the high chair and give him something manual to do, such as objects to fit together, a book, pencils to write on. Children like to see their parents cooking. : you can explain what we are doing and give them something to manipulate. If they are older you can give them kitchen items, such as pots and spoons, for symbolic play. In a small saucepan you can put cold water and some paste to mix, so as to imitate what mum or dad does ".

The concept is to try to give them some activities that can gratify them and that in some way can also be useful for you: "for example you can sit them on a low table and equip them with cherry tomatoes, a small bowl with water and paper towels. They can wash the tomatoes by passing them into the bowl with water and then dry them with paper towels, or put them in the bowl and pour them into another using a ladle with holes. This is the principle of Montessori decanting: you will see that they will concentrate very much and will be happy to have succeeded. If you want to avoid water, it is fine to pour the pasta from a small bowl to 'other".


"In the 3-6 age group, children can easily give you a hand in the kitchen: try it, they will be delighted. They can lay the table, cut fruit, help you in many small tasks. And remember that at this age the moment of" boredom " that's exactly what you start organizing yourself to play independently ". 

AT THE RESTAURANT. "Places where long waits are necessary to be served should be avoided. If you go to a pizzeria or family-friendly restaurant, always remember to bring a backpack with everything you need to entertain your child, selecting them according to his tastes. block of sheets with pencils and wax markers is an evergreen, but do not underestimate books with stickers or memory, with very intuitive cards. From 6 years upwards, books and magazines with mazes and crosswords, the domino ( there is also magnetic) or card games such as Uno, but also dinosaurs or puppets for the symbolic game".

What is important is the awareness of the family: "The child knows that the backpack is full of games, the smartphone is not there and the parent will not give it to him. So the little one is organized accordingly and will never ask for it again ".

The interviewee

Marta Versiglia, pedagogist of the CPP - Psycho-pedagogical Center for education and conflict management. She wrote the book "Learning while playing. Montessori activities for you and your child, to grow together while having fun" and also "Outdoor Montessori Activities" (Bur Parenting).

  • children and technology
  • 3-5 children years
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