As we explained in previous posts, big technology companies – such as TikTok, Meta, Google or Snapchat – have been sued by dozens of schools in Seattle, United States, for causing large-scale psychological damage to minors. And, according to UNICEF data, the average age at which children have a mobile phone is before they turn 11 years old. Therefore, they have access to any type of information at an early age and are exposed to becoming victims of crime.
The lawsuit was based on the fact that access to these platforms is related to the appearance of mental health disorders in young people. These disorders could include depression, eating disorders, or decreased school performance.
“Defendants have successfully exploited the vulnerable brains of youth, hooking tens of millions of students across the country into positive feedback loops of excessive use and abuse of Defendants’ social media platforms,” the complaint said. “Worse, the content Defendants curate and direct to youth is too often harmful and exploitive.”
New technologies have found a place, not only in the homes of most children, but also in schools, appearing to be an indispensable tool in the school curriculum.
However, UNESCO recently published a global education monitoring report called “Global education monitoring report, 2023: technology in education: a tool on whose terms?”. It states that there is no solid evidence on the added value of digital technology in education, as the evidence provided comes from those who sell that technology.
The aforementioned report states that technology affects all areas of life, since it expands opportunities for connection and access to information. It also poses risks to security, privacy, equality and social cohesion, which sometimes translates into damage from which it is necessary to protect users. Not all changes represent progress, just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done.
The document states that increased screen time can have a negative impact on emotional control and stability, increase anxiety and depression, and have a detrimental effect if used inappropriately or excessively.
The data it offers suggest “a negative relationship between excessive use of ICT and students’ academic results. Few countries have strict regulations in this area, less than a quarter have banned the use of smartphones.”
Initiatives in other countries
Several countries are taking initiatives to regulate its use:
- In Ireland, in the coastal town Greystones, eight schools have developed voluntary regulations that restrict the use of mobile phones up to the age of 12, both at school and in daily life. “This initiative was carried out by the director of a St. Patrick’s school, Rachel Harper, who stated that “childhood is getting shorter and shorter. 9-year-old children feel coerced by other minors to be constantly online. And they are not emotionally prepared. Anxiety has skyrocketed. “Something had to be done”.There is strength in numbers and, when parents feel pressured by their children to buy them a cell phone, the decision not to do so no longer makes them feel exceptional. They have found a way to hold on together and not give in, at least until they start high school. We aspire to create a critical mass, a snowball…” explains Harper, who met with the Minister of Education, Norma Foley. Now, the Irish Government plans to undertake similar initiatives at the national level
- In the US, Silicon Valley is one of the first to ban its use in schools. 10 states and 44 school districts have joined Seattle’s lawsuit against TikTok, YouTube or Snapchat. Specifically, in San Mateo, headquarters of Meta (a brand that owns social networks such as Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp), the use of cell phones in schools has already been prohibited, introducing magnetic bags that make them useless.
- Sweden, on the verge of completing full digitalization, has redirected educational resources destined for mobile devices and training video games to the purchase of textbooks and more teachers.
- France, Italy and the Netherlands, starting in 2024, will ban the use of mobile devices in schools at the state level.
- In Spain, the regions of Madrid, Galicia and Castilla La Mancha have defined guidelines. The rest is governed by the educational center. An example is the Arnau Cadell institute, where after 3 years of restrictions they assure that “they are all advantages” despite the difficulty of their implementation in the first year.
Another consequence of the misuse of technologies has been the growing consumption of pornography among young people, which increases sexual aggressiveness, the risk of risky sexual behavior or the objectification of women. There is unquestionable evidence about the alterations in brain connectivity observed in the brains of people addicted to pornography consumption, so the criteria for dissemination and access to this content should be modified.