Discussions about technology often focus on children and young people. However, in Germany young people are beginning to challenge their parents reliance on smartphones. This is the story of a local campaign, reminding adults to engage with their children without technology getting in the way.
“Heute schon mit Ihrem Kind gesprochen?” (translated as “have you talked to your child today?”) is a campaign currently being run in Saxony-Anhalt by the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Integration as well as the Service Centre for Child Youth Protection. Posters promoting the initiative are being displayed on public transport, as well as in schools, sports centres and children’s services.
There are countless studies which indicate that phone use can get in the way of social interactions. Most of the mainstream attention given to this excessive use of technology looks at ways to restrict the use of digital advices amongst young people, and it is this topic that most people are familiar with. However, in a recent American survey analysing the social media habits of young people aged between 13-17, 33% of the respondents said that they wished their parents would use electronic devices less. Another study, of children aged 8-13, found that more than half felt their parents spend too much time on phones, with one-third reporting that their parents being preoccupied with technology made them feel neglected and unimportant. These studies highlight the often-ignored problem of adults often being just as attracted to technology use as some young people. In fact, one study of young people aged 18-24 indicates that attitudes to social media are changing amongst young people, with only 57% of those surveyed agreeing with the statement “social media is important to me” – down from 66% in 2016. Meanwhile, among the 45-plus age bracket those who say that they value social media increased from 23% to 28%.
Therefore, it is clear that while many parents think that media restrictions are important for children and young people, they often fail to think about the amount of time they are spending on technology themselves. Urging adults to “take a pause” from technology, the “have you talked to your child today?” initiative is seeking to create an awareness of media usage amongst older people, and to help young people to grow up with a healthy relationship to smartphones and other electronic devices.
While somewhat unusual, this campaign is not entirely isolated within Germany, where technology usage is hotly debated. Media outlets often report on the issues caused by parents who use their smartphones too much, from accidents which happen when the parents are not paying full attention, to developmental issues that arise from the resulting lack of eye contact and engagement. In January 2017, the town of Augsburg in Bavaria ran a “Talk to your child!” poster campaign urging parents to curb their technology use. However, the debate reached a head in September 2018, when seven-year-old Emil Rustige organised a youth demonstration in Hamburg. The campaign’s slogan was “Play with ME, not with your cell phones!”, with children and young people protesting to encourage parents to spend less time using technology and more uninterrupted time with them.
There is no such thing as a “normal” use of technology. Smartphones are entirely multifunctional and can be used to help in many everyday situations. In fact, according to family interaction media studies, mobile use is important for completing activities with high relevance to daily life such as banking, taking photos, playing games and checking emails. Therefore, the campaign doesn’t give any suggestions about appropriate screen time – either for adults or for children – but focuses on encouraging individuals to both take and ENJOY media breaks, and spend time more consciously with those around you, and particularly with children.
Smartphones are going to continue to be an important part of life for people of all ages. However, their use can be problematic. By attempting to tackle that, this campaign promotes healthier use of technology, and helps people to reconsider the role that smart phones have within their lives. Hopefully a more mindful kind of device use is the future.