Does anyone still use the word smombie? It was the German youth word of 2015 and is a composition of the terms smartphone and zombie. We should use it more often. Because what sounds like funny teenage life is in fact a worrying social development. These smombies are us.
We check our email folder first in the morning after getting up, we interrupt an important conversation because our smartphone is vibrating, and we check our Facebook timeline one last time at night before bed. We are not aware that this behaviour is claiming its victims. And no, it’s not just the disappointed people we don’t listen to because we read news. It’s mainly the children.
“Since 1995, I have seen a tendency for parents to endure the whims of their children less and less and just give them what they want so that they are calm,” says child psychiatrist Michael Winterhoff. Why 1995? Because this year the digital revolution started.
Overburdening parents — Under-demand of children
It is a provocative thesis that Winterhoff defends. The digital world overwhelms adults so much that they no longer prepare their children for life. And to prepare for life for him means to teach you that not everything goes immediately according to your wishes. “Adults no longer act these days. They just react. On her smartphone, on her tablet, on her computer, on her child. And they react immediately.”
He compares this permanent state of overstimulation and quick decisions to a Saturday stroll in a busy shopping street during the Advent season. “You are in disaster mode all the time, so you try to keep children calm as quickly as possible. In the worst case, you put them in front of the TV or in front of a tablet, then they are employed for several hours.”
The BLIKK media study shows that 75 percent of German children between the ages of two and four already play more than 30 minutes with their smartphones every day. In this parental behaviour — namely to give children immediately what they ask for — Winterhoff sees a dangerous social development.
Children don’t develop frustration tolerance
In daily life, we have to endure situations that we do not find perfectly pleasant. We have to sit in the office on a nice summer day or queue at the buffet, even though we are hungry. This ability is called frustration tolerance. We endure something, although it may annoy us a little bit.
This ability is extremely important in order to be able to survive in everyday life. Otherwise we wouldn’t endure a day at work, no traffic jam or waiting time in the restaurant without resting. But we don’t get the tolerance of frustration in the cradle, it has to develop in childhood.
“The tolerance of frustration should be trained in children from the eighth or ninth month,” says Winterhoff. This means that from this age the child has to learn that he has to wait for something from time to time and does not get everything immediately if he squeals loudly enough. “Before that, it’s pointless. When babies are screaming, they want to have a drink or be taken in their arms immediately.”
But if this cycle continues after the eighth month — child screams, child gets what he wants — then this has negative consequences not only for childhood, but also for adulthood. “We already have almost 60 percent of young adults who are not fit for work and life, and there will certainly be more in the near future.”
He means people who have no sense of punctuality and zeal for work, let alone are willing to make sacrifices — precisely because, over the course of their lives, they always got what they cried for.
Parents need to regain their intuition
Winterhoff sees not only the parents alone as responsible, but also the domestic education system, which demands far too little for children. “Everything in school has to be experienced at will, the teachers are called learning companions and no one shows the children that you have to sit still and listen.”
Winterhoff sees only one way to stop this social development: adults, that is, parents like grandparents and educators, must be able to regenerate their psyche. “Over-demand always comes from oneself,” says Winterhoff. That is why it is all the more important in the modern world that adults create retreats in order to become calmer and more relaxed again. “This is yoga for one, the church or the forest for the other. The main thing is to withdraw from the fast digital world for a few hours a week.”
This is the only way adults can recover what Winterhoff calls intuition. Namely, an intuition to know when to give a child what they need — and when you might just let them squeal. But this can only be done if you as a parent have the peace of mind. In his book “The Rediscovery of Childhood”, Winterhoff also advocates creating these “digital-free” spaces for children in the digital world. So that they too can learn what it means to rest within themselves. And don’t become smombies later.
What screen times are appropriate?
The following times are averages from various recommendations. They can serve as a guideline for you, but they should also be set in the context of the entire life situation. In particular, it should be taken into account how much media use is common in a family.
Age recommended screen time per day
0-3 years best not at all
3-6 years 30 min
6-9 years 60 min
from 10 years is no longer possible recommendation, because the usage patterns differ greatly here. Above all, the use for school purposes must be calculated again from possible usage times.
BUT: There is no panacea in media education either
Media education does not have its own rules, but is part of education in general. For example, if parents already trust their child in other things and promote his or her independence, they should also do so when it comes to media use, always depending on the child’s current abilities and abilities.
To know what parents can trust their child and where they should better intervene, they need to observe their child and be in contact with him. Perhaps the child can actually watch a book and listen to music at the same time without any problems – but perhaps he or she also reacts aggressively and unbalanced when too many jobs run at the same time. Maybe a child looks away by himself when he finds a scene on TV scary – but maybe he or she looks away and can’t fall asleep afterwards.
Every child is different – that is why there are no recipes for media education as well as in other areas of education. Each family must find its own rules, depending on all those involved, which must also be constantly reviewed and adapted to the level of development of the children.
We wish you good luck to find a healthy way for you and your family!