Alone and without alternative entertainment… Young people from low-income families abuse screens more | Health and wellness

Facundo was non-conflict, and never caused trouble at home or at school. His mother, Ninfa Alarcón, says he has always been a “very responsible and very disciplined boy”. However, when he was 15 years old, his teacher called his mother to tell her that he did not go to class, and when he did it was after twelve o’clock in the afternoon. It was then that he realized that his son had become addicted to video games. She was away from home almost all day for her work, and left alone, Alarcón says, “she went to play for hours and hours.” The teenager spent more than 12 hours in front of a computer screen.

This case is not isolated. Young Spaniards spend more than three hours a day in front of a screen during the week and five hours on weekends. This is data from the Gasol Foundation’s STEPS 2022 report. However, the World Health Organization advises not to exceed two hours per day. This excessive use is related to several factors, one of which is the economic situation of the family. The report reflects that nearly 70% of minors from a low-income environment exceeded WHO recommendations during the week. It is 9% higher than those from high-income families.

Facundo, 18, and his 47-year-old mother arrived in Spain from Peru, their home country, in 2018. Due to the difficult economic situation, they asked Caritas for help. They lived in Segovia (Castilla y León) and during the first years they had no internet at home, so the teenager went to the municipal library to use the computers there. If he takes his card and his mother’s card, he can call for four hours, which is already excessive use, according to the Gasol Foundation.

When Ninfa Alarcón could afford an internet contract for the home, the situation worsened because Facundo could use it almost without interruption. She would leave the house at five in the morning and would not return until late in the afternoon, so her son could be left playing on the computer unsupervised. When she learned of the boy’s addiction, Alarcón wanted to believe in him and did not take action until the center contacted her again. “I couldn’t control it either because my work situation didn’t allow it, and if I stayed home, I couldn’t make money.”

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In February last year, Cáritas published a report, funded by the Ministry of Health, on the misuse of electronic devices (more than six hours a day). In the low-income families interviewed, the risk of addiction affected approximately 21%. More than one in five. Carmen García, responsible for Childhood and Family Programs at Cáritas Spain, highlights loneliness, lack of alternative entertainment, lack of motivation and the desire to escape from their reality as motivating aspects.

The greater amount of time that young people from low-income families spend alone is a determining factor, explain Jenis Segundo, of the Gasol Foundation, and Carmen García, of Caritas. García also explains that they don’t have a lot of options for recreation if they don’t have parks close to their homes, or if the existing parks aren’t in good condition or aren’t safe. In addition, in many cases, parents cannot allow their children to do extracurricular activities in the afternoons, as was the case with Alarcón and Facundo.

To address his son’s problem, Alarcón sought help from Caritas and they began working with one of his psychologists. From that moment on, she had to get pregnant Router And all computer cables so he can’t use it. “However, he found wires around the house that he could use, he was like a drug addict or an alcoholic,” the mother cries.

Addiction and family conflicts

Although they do not fit the profile of a low-income family, Marta and Daniel (both fictitious names to protect their identities) also have help from Cáritas in a similar situation. They are a mother and her son and they live in Gijón. When he started primary school, at the age of six, the school provided Daniel with a computer for studying, which he also used to play. By age 9, it was already a problem: “The time it took to take the computer away from him or tell him to turn it off was already a conflict. “He broke a lot of things,” his mother recalls.

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The minor had between 10 and 12 hours a day: “I hardly slept.” It got worse until one day, when he was 11 years old, Daniel pushed and kicked his mother. She had to call the police and, after the conflict, they started working with the Technical Intervention Team for Family Support (EITAF), from the municipal social services. Through them, Daniel began going to Llugarín, a day center in Caritas, where he spent his afternoons while Marta worked. There he did his homework and they worked with him on his addictions and family conflicts. Although they had help from EITAF and Cáritas, Marta had to quit her job because she had been spending too many hours away from home.

Now the young man almost no longer plays video games, he replaced them with social networks and significantly reduced the hours in front of the screen. His parents installed a parental control service on his mobile phone which restricts his internet use to a maximum of four hours per day. However, when calculating, during the week Daniel says he spends between four and six hours a day with screens (TV and mobile). The number goes up to seven or eight hours on the weekends, when the phone is untethered.

The problem is that many times the children are with the mobile phone, but their parents next to them do the same

Carmen García, Child and Family Program Officer at Cáritas Spain

Carmen García, from the Spanish city of Caritas, explains that for minors who come from low-income environments, video games also have the quality of allowing them to be who they want to be. “They let them out of their reality, which is very complex and abstract,” he explains. Garcia also warns that when it comes to young people who come from marginal environments, they are more likely to use the digital world to hide their identity. “Children from Cañada Real came to tell us that they don’t say which area they live in to avoid being rejected,” he explains.

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The head of the NGO Childhood and Family points out that in many cases minors are a reflection of the elderly: “Often the problem is that the children are with their mobile phones, but their parents are doing the same thing nearby.” He stresses that the boundaries set by adults are increasingly blurred and that in many cases there are problems of perception. When they prepared the report, from Caritas they were surprised to see that the parents considered that the rules at home were clear regarding the use of screens, while the children declared that they did not have them, or had very few rules.

The NGO suggests that parents set real boundaries, but not only apply them to their children, but also follow their own rules. It is committed to restricting technology use and quality family time as essential elements. “There are families who do not know how to participate in the education of their children, how to accompany them,” says García.

Cáritas also shows concern about the lack of motivation that she notes in these children in their context. They don’t have the financial resources, but often they don’t get other support from their next of kin either, and that also includes the motivational part. It is also clear that in many children they notice a complete lack of motivation: “They have no expectations or dreams.” Garcia talks about the transmission of poverty from generation to generation. Children see themselves reflected in their parents and grandparents. “They accept that, even if they don’t like it, life has touched them and it won’t change. Their situation bores them and they run away with screens,” he concludes.

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