Guillem Muñoz: "We must limit children’s exposure to screens just as we do with alcohol"

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Carla Fajardo Martín - Colectic
  • Guillem Muñoz, from the Adsis Foundation, giving a workshop on the use of new technologies.
    Guillem Muñoz, from the Adsis Foundation, giving a workshop on the use of new technologies. Source: Assigned.

The Adsis Foundation works to prevent techno-addictions with educational workshops for children and teenagers.

The Fundació Adsis works towards the social inclusion of people in Spain. We talk about this challenge with Guillem Muñoz, who is a psychologist specialising in addictions and who is in charge of some of the trainings provided in this organisation.

The association you work with is pioneering in educational and critical work on screens. Which are the social and health problems in children linked to new technologies?

We look into many aspects such as those relating to self-esteem and self-concept, eating disorders, pathological gambling or disorders from playing videogames. Addiction to mobile phones has not been recognised yet as a disorder. It’s as if we talked about alcoholism and said the glass was generating the addiction. Mobile phones are an instrument.

Some studies compare the effect of screens with the use of drugs. Are we whitewashing technology?

They describe the same strengthening processes, they share a common denominator. I think addictions are a serious psychological pathology that a small percentage of the population develops, and if attention was given to the addictive process, this would leave other more important thinks to treat out of the equation.

I am referring to anti-social and criminal behaviours such as grooming (when an adult contacts a minor with sexual intent) or “sexpreading” (when someone blackmails another or shares images of another person containing explicit sexual content without their consent).

According to some reports, screens are a major concern for families. How long should children spend in front of a screen and from what age?

We recommend children don’t spend any time in front of a screen before they are 5; from the age of 6 to 12, screens must be used in a progressive way and never for longer than three hours a week. Contents must always be supervised and children shouldn’t be left in front of a screen unless an adult supervises them. There are mechanisms such as YouTube Kids, Netflix for Children, PEGI warning on videogames, age groups and common sense. When kids become teenagers is when we negotiate and reach agreements.

Before the age of 5 screens don’t contribute anything that can’t be found in children playing with other children. Screens are highly reinforcing and use patterns that may generate a dependency. Screens are by no means neutral; they are spaces created by large companies that earn money by retaining people before a screen. We get trapped and hooked on over-identification, “likes” and infinite scrolling, the automatic reproduction of stories on Instagram, creating reels…Nothing of this is accidental and that is why we feel we loose track of time. There should be some form of regulation, especially for online betting adds on TikTok; this is extremely dangerous.

As adults, we also spend a lot of time in front of screens.

It’s normal there is more consumption. There’s a change in habits, I wouldn’t say it’s pathological, but we do need rules, limits and greater control. The potential of the Internet is endless.

What are your proposals for children to use technologies adequately?

Training the families and setting rules, limits and models. Families must be a role model for their children. For instance, if we are sharing a meal, phones should be left off the table, televisions turned off, since they are also screens, and we should focus our attention of what we have around us. Computers should be used in shared spaces and supervised until the age of 12, and children should not be allowed to lock themselves in their rooms, screen time should be limited and contents too.

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