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“What is an iPhone doing in the hands of a middle schooler?”


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Mathilde De Robien - published on 06/24/21

This tech expert tells parents that there's no good reason for a child younger than high school to have a smartphone.

Direct, convinced and convincing, Stéphane Blocquaux doesn’t mince his words. Whether during his conferences or in his publications, this French researcher and expert in e-education, who has carried out various commissions for the French Ministry of Health and the French Senate, doesn’t dissimulate his point of view.

“Could you give me one, and only one, good educational reason to give a child in elementary school or middle school a smartphone with a plan that allows him to surf the internet, whenever he wants and especially wherever he wants? I’ve looked hard. I don’t see any.”

Aleteia: You give many conferences to parents and children on the subject of digital technology. What are your findings on the use of smartphones by young people?

Stéphane Blocquaux: First of all, it hasn’t gotten any better in the last 10 years! One would have thought that with 10 years of hindsight and hundreds and hundreds of serious incidents (assaults, suicides, cyber-bullying), the [French] State would legislate a little more, control, block the use of the internet by minors. But we can see that in 10 years, there haven’t been sufficiently firm and definitive measures.

Of course, (in France) phones have been banned in high school, as if this were a major restriction. But that’s just the beginning of the beginning of the obvious [things to do]! I think we haven’t taken the measure of what is happening: totally uncontrolled tools are in the hands of totally uncontrollable minors. It is a harsh observation, which is also a call to attention for politicians, adults, educators, the police …

The second observation is that we’ve tried to repress access, on the part of the justice system and on the part of the parents. The latter install parental control software, and take away laptops during certain hours, but I’m not sure that they’re educating children about the virtual world.

There’s a real global, general, societal educational defect regarding the management of phones. I think it’s a major problem in our society and the answers are not commensurate with the problem and with all the damage it causes every day in homes and in the education system.

What damage are you referring to?

First of all, the ravages on private life and more precisely on people’s relationship to intimacy. Then to the trivialization of violence by certain video games. And finally to sexualization: Massively, children are gorging themselves on pornography at shocking ages, that is to say around 11-12 years! In one click, they can access digital pornography without any control. They learn about sexuality on sites like YouPorn, and I’m not sure that’s the right place! There are multiple problems and the damage is significant.

You advocate e-education. What does this require from parents?

First of all, a real awareness. In concrete terms, I don’t really see what an iPhone with a 5G package is doing in the hands of a child in school. As much as I’m in favor of it in high school, I am totally against it in middle school.

Virtual education means giving them a phone with which they can call their parents when they have a problem with their bus. That’s it. If they want to do work on a computer, they can do it at home under the control of the family’s internet connection.

Yes, it’s less tempting for them to watch porn on the family tablet than on their personal smartphone! And we can put a filter on a home internet connection to filter content. We have to stop mistaking 13-year-olds for adults. When I go to secondary schools, what do I see? The students have in their hands the tools of senior executives, and they’re in middle school.

One could object that one must keep up with the times!

The idea isn’t to turn them into digital outsiders! I’m not against some current video games. Young people play on networks, they chat—from home, OK! I’m not a Luddite. I have 17 screens at home and four children; I don’t cut them off from the digital world! On the other hand, I don’t give them the possibility of going wherever they want, whenever they want. At 7 p.m., the router cuts off internet access, at 9 p.m. it reopens and at 9:30 p.m. it cuts off. If a child has access all night, why would he stop?

Today, there’s no more time without digital screens, no more time out, no more breaks. Do children need to be glued to their smartphone during their 30-minute bus ride? No! As soon as you give them a smartphone connected to 5G, it’s the death of childhood.

It’s up to each of us to know how long we want to make childhood last. Some parents have decided to kill childhood too early.

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