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Children’s health and digital: the education that serves the family

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Children’s health and digital: the education that serves the family

There is a lot of talk about the addiction of children and adolescents to digital technology, much less about the bad example that often comes from parents or families. Theme that emerges clearly from a survey on the relationship with digital technology within families with children aged between 0 and 15 carried out by the paediatrician associations ACP, FIMP and SIP in collaboration with the Carolina Foundation and Meta: in the 0 range -2 years 72% of families admit to using social networks and chats during their children’s meals, while 26% let the children use the devices in complete autonomy. The survey is part of the project “Delicate connections” which aims to make parents aware of the use of digital devices with children and to promote good practices thanks to the careful guidance of pediatricians

The investigation

A pool of volunteer pediatricians involved around 800 families nationwide with an anonymous questionnaire on online habits and behaviors. Partners of the initiative are Meta and the Carolina Foundation who supported the families so that the questionnaire was both an opportunity for discussion with the pediatrician and for in-depth study of digital dynamics thanks to the free material provided online.

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The consequences on sleep and cognitive development

The proposed questionnaire shows a lack of awareness on the part of families and a condition of loneliness in children: 26% of parents allow their children to use the devices independently between 0 and 2 years, a percentage that rises to 62% for the 3- 5 years, 82% in the 6-10 year range and 95% between 11 and 15 years. “Already in a statement published in 2018 in the Italian Journal of Pediatrics, the Italian Society of Pediatrics highlighted the documented risks for psychophysical health of an early, prolonged and not mediated by adults use of media devices in children from 0 to 8 years old. Negative interferences have been detected on sleep, vision, the musculoskeletal system, learning and even cognitive development”, declares the president of Sip, Annamaria Staiano.

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Anxiety, depression and online grooming

Hence the recommendation to avoid smartphones and tablets before the age of two, limit their use to a maximum of 1 hour a day between 2 and 5 years of age and a maximum of 2 for those between the ages of 5 and 8. “As two Sip analyzes conducted in 2019 and 2022 documented, the risks increase with the increase in time spent online: from anxiety and depression to being overweight to eating disorders; from cyberbullying to online grooming; from behavioral problems to those of vision, headache, dental caries”, adds the president of Sip, Annamaria Staiano.

Device also in use while breastfeeding

From the study of Delicate Connections it emerges that children are used to the presence of tablets and smartphones from early childhood, even in a fundamental moment such as breastfeeding. “The decrease in mothers’ attention to her infant’s cues due to smartphone use, especially early in life in the primary interactive contexts of breastfeeding and face-to-face interactions, may have negative repercussions on the infant’s neurodevelopmental trajectories . Responsive maternal behavior is an essential element of the synchronicity system that develops between mother and infant early in life. Promotes physiological, cognitive and socio-emotional growth and achieves healthy parenting”, observes Antonio D’Avino, president of Fimp. “Between three and six months of age, breastfeeding and face-to-face interactions constitute the majority of contexts in which parent-infant bonding develops and require keen sensitivity on the part of mothers to continually learn to recognize and interpret their infants’ cues and adapt to their changing abilities”, adds D’Avino.

The lullaby goes digital

Modern parents seem to no longer even be able to put their children to sleep with the classic lullaby. In fact, one in four families in the 0-2 age group and one in five in the 3-5 age group relies on artificial intelligence to put their children to sleep, with lullabies produced by voice assistants. Data that attest to a growing pervasiveness of technological tools both on the part of parents and on the part of the little ones, in all stages of growth: 35% of parents of children between 0 and 2 years delegate the task of entertaining their children to devices , for example with the reading of fairy tales, a percentage that reaches 80% in the 3-5 year range.

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Families unprepared for risks

The results also show the poor perception of families on the risks of improper use of digital technology: from the symptoms of addiction, to the main dangers in terms of psychophysical health, such as sexting e grooming. In particular, when asked what is the sexting66% of parents aged 6-10 were unable to provide an answer.

The right ‘doses’ of technology

So what is the age below which the use of technology is not recommended? For how many hours can children and young people be exposed to screens? About half of the families involved cannot answer, nor do they know the opinion of the medical-scientific community on the matter. A problem that conditions the entire growth path of the new generations. “A teenager’s brain is not like an adult’s, so much so that the amount of myelin doubles and this leads to a faster propagation of nerve messages. Exposure to traumatic and toxic factors can therefore alter their cognitive development. For example, reducing sleep hours due to the use of digital media often leads to problems with school performance. Furthermore, unregulated use of the smartphone risks causing addiction and poor social relationships at a time in life in which sociality, real and not virtual, plays an important role in the development of autonomy, critical sense, as well as personality. Today’s parents, faced with these complex problems, must be supported in assuming more appropriate educational positions”, comments Stefania Manetti, president of Acp (Pediatrician Cultural Association).

Families looking for help

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Parents state that they need support in managing their children’s relationship with digital technology: 70% of the 0-2 age group and 87% of the 11-15 age group would like more information from paediatricians. The volunteer paediatricians who participated in the pilot phase share the same opinion: 87% believe scientific training in the field of digital health for minors is necessary. The collaboration of the Carolina Foundation – born in memory of Carolina Picchio, the first victim recognized in Italy of cyberbullying – in this project is in line with what the non-profit organization has gathered in recent years, in the field and on the Web. only a technological issue, but it affects the health of the new generations. The psycho-physical well-being of children must be protected online just like offline, starting from the very first years of life and it is the parents’ job to be aware of and responsible for it with the support of competent specialists, in this case doctors “, he observes Ivano Zoppi, Secretary General of the Carolina Foundation.

An online guide

Delicate connections invites us to take care of our children also in the digital dimension. The pilot project made it possible to draw up the first draft of the “Digital Health Report”: a valuable document with a view to expanding the initiative to a national level by next spring. Who the information guide on online safety for parents, developed by the Carolina Foundation with the contribution of Meta, is available. “We are happy to have carried out this project with the pediatrician associations and the Carolina Foundation. Digital education is a fundamental aspect for the growth path of the little ones and for the protection of their safety. For this reason we work to provide parents with useful tools to protect their online presence and that of their childrencomments Angelo Mazzetti, Head of Public Policy of Meta Italia.

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