Digital gurus raise their children without screens.

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Digital gurus raise their children without screens.

In Silicon Valley, schools proliferate without tablets or computers and kindergartens where cell phones are prohibited by contract.

Original content is HERE and it was translated from Portuguese. Written by: PABLO GUIMÓN - Palo Alto (Califórnia, EUA) 13 ABR 2019


The teacher, armed with colored chalk, adds fractions on the large blackboard, framed in rustic wood, which covers the front wall of the class. The children of the fourth grade, 9 and 10 years, make their accounts in the portfolios with pencils and cards. The classroom is lined with papers: messages, schedules, student work. None came out of a printer. Nothing, not even the textbooks, which the children themselves make by hand, was done by computer. There is no detail in this lesson that may be out of sync with the school memories of an adult who attended school in the last century. But we're in Palo Alto. The heart of Silicon Valley . Epicenter of the digital economy. Habitat of those who think, produce and sell the technology that transforms the society of the XXI century.

Schools around the world strive to introduce computers, tablets, interactive whiteboards and other technological prodigies. But here at the Waldorf of Peninsula , a private school where the children of Apple's administrators, Google and other technology giants surrounding this former San Francisco Bay farm are taught, the screens come in only when they reach high school ).

"We do not believe in the black box, the idea that you put something in a machine and a result comes out without understanding what goes on inside. If you make a perfect circle with a computer, you do not have the human being trying to achieve that. What triggers learning is emotion., and it is the human beings who produce this emotion, not the machines. Creativity is essentially human. If you put a screen in front of a small child, you limit your motor skills, your tendency to expand, your ability to concentrate. There are not many certainties in all of this. We will have the answers 15 years from now when these children are adults. But do we want to take the risk? "asks Pierre Laurent, the father of three children, a computer engineer who has worked for Microsoft, Intel and several startups , and now chairs the school board.

His words illustrate what is beginning to be a consensus among the elites of Silicon Valley. Adults who better understand cellphone and application technology want their children to stay away from it. The benefits of screenings in early childhood education are limited, they argue, while the risk of dependency is high.



Families where there is at least one child under the age of eight


The pioneers had it clear from the start. Bill Gates, creator of Microsoft , has limited the screen time of his children. "We do not have phones on the table when we're eating and we only gave them cell phones when they turned 14," he said in 2017. "At home, we limit the use of technology to our children," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs in an interview to The New York Times in 2010, in which he said he forbade children to use the newly-created iPad. "On the sweet-crack scale, this is closer to crack," said Chris Anderson, former director of Wired magazine , a bible of digital culture, also at The New York Times .

Laurent, who only gave his youngster a cell phone when he was in the final year of elementary school (14 or 15 years), warns of a very dangerous change in the business model he witnessed in his professional life. "Anyone who makes an application wants it to be easy to use," he explains. "It's like this from the beginning, but before we wanted the user to be happy to buy the product, now with smartphones and tablets, the business model is different: the product is free, but data is collected and placed ads. So the goal today is for the user to spend more time in the app in order to collect more data or place more ads. That is, the reason for the application is that the user spend as much time as possible before the screen. They are designed for this. "




The problem of the relation of children with technology is that the dizzying rhythm in which it transforms hinders reflection and study. A survey by Common Sense Media , a nonprofit organization "dedicated to helping children develop in a world of media and technology," gives an idea of ​​the speed of change: American children aged zero to eight spent in 2017 an average of 48 minutes a day on the cell phone, three times more than in 2013 and 10 times more than in 2011. "When did all this furor for smartphones start?" Asks María Álvarez, vice president of the organization. "It's no more than 12 or 13. And the first tabletsless. Much research is still needed to determine what impact this exposure may have on young children. But there are some studies that begin to see a relationship between this technology and certain milestones in education. They offer pointers that parents need to take into account. "

A study published in January this year in the medical journal JAMA Pediatricsrevealed that greater screen time at two and three years is associated with children's delays in reaching development milestones two years later. Other studies relate the excessive use of cell phones by adolescents with lack of sleep, risk of depression and even suicides. The Academy of Pediatrics in the United States published some recommendations in 2016: avoiding the use of screens for children under 18 months; only quality content and views in the company of parents, for children between 18 and 24 months; one hour a day of quality content for children between two and five years of age; and, from the age of six, coherent limits on the time of use and content.

It turns out that setting limits is not easy for working parents. And this leads to a redefinition of what the digital divide means. Until recently, the concern was that richer children took advantage by accessing the Internet earlier. Today, according to Common Sense Media, 98% of households with children in the US have cell phones, compared to 52% in 2011. When technology has become widespread, the problem is the opposite: households with high purchasing power are more likely to children spend the day in front of cell phones. While the children of the Silicon Valley elites are raised between slates and wooden toys, those of the lower and middle classes grow glued to canvas.

Teenagers from low-income families, according to a study by Common Sense Media, spend two hours and 45 minutes a day more on the screens than those from high-income families. Other studies indicate that white children are significantly less exposed to screens than blacks or Hispanics. The gap is even seen inside the Silicon Valley. Driving 15 minutes north from the Waldorf of Peninsula, an institution whose enrollment is about $ 30,000 a year (117,000 reais), you reach the Hillview public school. The first one only introduces the screens in the secondary. The second announces a program whereby each student has an iPad. At first, the visitor is greeted by a rustic scarecrow, placed in a vegetable garden that the students cultivate. In the second, by an LED screen that exposes the communiqués of the day.

"How many working families can afford to leave their children completely off the screen?" Asks Common Sense Media's Alvarez. "I do not think it's realistic for most families, I have a 12-year-old son and a 6-year-old son. I do not know how many times they threw themselves on the floor screaming like crazy if I took their tablet . which is not easy. "

Officials at major technology companies met last year in an initiative called The Truth About Technology . Its purpose is to convince companies of the need to introduce ethical parameters in the design of tools used daily by billions of people, including children. "Computer engineering was for a long time very technical, there was no clear idea of ​​the impact it would have on people, let alone on children," explains Pierre Laurent. "There was no awareness that we had to deal with ethics, something that happens, for example, if you work in the medical industry.

It is an unequal struggle. Super-charged parents against teams of engineers and psychologists who design technology to keep their kids hooked. But something is starting to change. Technological giants, increasingly questioned in their privacy and commercial policies, are beginning to introduce changes to their products, shy exceptions to the sacrosanct principle of getting more attention.



Last year, Apple's two major investors, Jana Partners and CalSTRS ( California Teacher Retirement Fund ) jointly held about $ 2 billion in shares ($ 7.8 billion), sent an open letter to Cupertino company chiefs, urging them to take more action against children's cell phone addiction . "We looked at the evidence and believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more options and tools to help them ensure that young consumers use their products the best they can," they wrote.

The Apple responded with the Screen Time , a new tool that helps to control and limit the use of mobile devices. The Google incorporated a similar tool, the Digital Wellbeing . For critics, it's just patches that do not address the underlying problem: the addictive nature of products. Until this is addressed, parents will be responsible for guiding their children in this world of uncertain potential.


Plants, wooden furniture, pencils and a blackboard stand out in the classroom at the Waldorf Peninsula of Silicon Valley

Plants, wooden furniture, pencils and a blackboard stand out in the classroom at the Waldorf Peninsula of Silicon Valley P. L.

"We encourage parents to be more proactive when it comes to searching for content," concludes Alvarez. "The key is how we learn to balance, take advantage, limit use, and know that for your physical and mental health, there must be times in the family where none of that is used. eating and dinner without cell phones, without a device constantly interrupting with notifications.We also recommend the shared use of the devices and talk with the children about what they see.And it is important that we be a model for our children.We are compulsively looking for the cell phone, justifying that it's for work, what message are we going through? "


This story is the first part of Crescer Conectados, a series of articles that explores the lives of children and teenagers in a digital world. Codes have changed, children learn, play and interact through networks and screens, surrounded by algorithms and big data, naturally in environments where adults move with discomfort. Crescer Conectados reflects on the challenges they face and the possibilities that open up for these generations. What do children and adolescents do, where are they and how do they use technology? They are between 3 and 18 years old: they will be our guides.


A classroom at the Waldorf Peninsula of Silicon Valley

A classroom at the Waldorf Peninsula of Silicon Valley PIERRE LAURENT


The obsession in Silicon Valley for keeping kids out of technology transcends the walls of the classroom. When children leave school, they try to keep them from touching or seeing the screens. The practice of requiring sisters to sign "contracts without cell phone use" is becoming widespread in the families of senior technology company executives in the Valley.

"I worked in homes where I had to leave the phone in the residence locker every time I came in," said Janie Martinez, who spent 15 years as a nanny in the area. "I could not look at the phone all my work day, and the children could not see screens during the time they were with me. It's crazy."

Martinez worked for "high profile" families in the technology world, including that of Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, he says. Works that, in the most extreme cases, can be remunerated with up to 100,000 dollars per year (390,000 reais). "The higher the profile of families, the more they cared about this issue," she says. "They did not want their children to look at a screen, and by contract, they kept me from using the phone." This was frustrating for me as caregivers, we need the phone for an emergency. also for our own families. "

Syma Latif, director of the Bay Area Sitters nanny agency, which places 200 caretakers in the Silicon Valley region, confirms this trend. "There are more and more families that include these clauses in the contracts. It is certainly something very common," he says. "When we talk about screen time and nannies, there are two things to consider: your own screen time and that of the child. screen is only allowed at certain times. '' Okay, because you work for that person.The gray zone begins when your screen time is determined.Has the employer entitled to tell you that you can not be on the phone? you have a child in school and need access to the phone, if it needs to be located,

Some parents go even further. They set out to wander the parks in search of nannies who are eyeing their cell phones while caring for each other's children. When they believe they have found some, they photograph them and report them to groups of mothers on the Internet. They are the "babysitter spies." There are sites like I Saw Your Nanny in which these photos are shared.

"It happens a lot in the parks," explains Anita Castro, with 10 years of experience as a caregiver for children in the region. "They do not even know us, they take a picture, they put it on social networks and they ask, 'Is that your nanny?' But they do not know that we can communicate with their parents, and neither am I a nanny or a relative. I realized that they had cameras in the house, and even the children were watching me: I looked at the time and they asked me if I was sending messages and for whom, so I knew they had this conversation with their parents, who asked to tell them if I was on the phone. "

Original content is HERE and it was translated from Portuguese. Written by: PABLO GUIMÓN - Palo Alto (Califórnia, EUA) 13 ABR 2019