National Police revealed they are being asked by more and more schools in the area to give talks and advice over the use of mobile phones by children, some as young as nine or ten. Teachers and police fear an overexposure to the internet which according to police has a direct impact on school attendance and more exposure to the risks of being online.
The Citizen Participation department of the National Police in Elche, made up of three officers, has given 300 talks so far this year at the request of local schools. Schools have expressed concerns about the increase in the time students spend glued to screens, something that has become worse due to lockdown.
Many of the talks offered by the unit have been given online but they have also had to visit classes in person – especially where there has been specific cases of online bullying. The officers say the main risks of allowing minors unsupervised access to the internet are cyber bulling, scams, exposure to violent and pornographic content, contact with unknown adults, sending images which would compromise the child, viral challenges that include self-harm, and conflict in WhatsApp groups.
The root of all this, said the three officers, is that children have a mobile phone in their hands far too early and in many cases without adult supervision. National Police do not recommend the use of a mobile until the age of 12 and recommend it starts with total parental control. The officers advise that the child can be gradually given an independence that depends on their maturity and they are very clear on two things: no social networks before the recommended ages (most are allowed from age 13, except Tik-Tok which is from 12 and WhatsApp which is from 16) and that there must be a time limit. According to these officers, parents have told them that their children are losing sleep due too much screen time.
In addition, the officers now find that mobile phone problems are increasingly beginning at an earlier age. In fact, although the awareness talks they carry out are mainly for 5th class in primary (and usually, up to the second year of secondary school), there are primary schools that are requesting these talks for 4th class.
The message with which the National Police always end these awareness talks is that both the children and their parents use common sense to make good use of the mobile phone. Empathy is another of the key “weapons” to combat the problems generated by the internet, according to the officers. “We ask them not to do what they would not like done to themselves, we explain that hurting others, harassing, humiliating, is not a game – it is a crime, even if it seems easy to do it from home”, the police explained.