Facundo was not conflictive, nor did he cause problems at home or at school. He had always been “a very responsible boy, very disciplined,” says his mother, Ninfa Alarcon. However, when he was 15 years old, his tutor called his mother to tell her that he did not go to class and when she did go it was after twelve noon. It was then that he realized that his son had become addicted to video games. She was away from home almost all day because of her work and Facundo, who was left alone, “went playing for hours and hours,” says Alarcon. The teenager spent more than 12 hours in front of the 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. These are data from the STEPS 2022 report of the Gasol Foundation. However, the WHO advises not to exceed two hours a day. This excessive use is related to several factors, and one of them is the economic situation of families. The report reflects that almost 70% of minors who belonged to a low-income environment exceeded the WHO recommendations during the week. It is 9% more than those who belonged to the highest income families.
Facundo, who is now 18 years old, and his 47-year-old mother arrived in Spain from Peru, their homeland, in 2018. Due to a difficult economic situation, they asked Caritas for help. They live in Segovia (Castilla y Leon) and during the first years they did not have internet at home, so the teenager went to the municipal library to use the computers there. If he took his card and his mother’s card, he could connect for four hours, which is already excessive use, according to the Gasol Foundation.
When Ninfa Alarcon was able to afford to contract internet for the home, the situation worsened because Facundo could use it almost without interruption. She would leave home at five in the morning and not return until late in the afternoon, so her son could be left playing on the computer unsupervised. When she found out about the boy’s addiction, Alarcon wanted to believe in him and did not take action until the center called her a second time. “I couldn’t control it either because my work situation didn’t allow it, if I stayed at home I couldn’t earn money.”
In February of last year, Caritas published a report, financed by the Ministry of Health, on the abusive use of electronic devices (more than six hours a day). In the lower-income families interviewed, the risk of addiction affected almost 21%. More than one in five. Carmen Garcia, responsible for the Childhood and Family programs of Caritas Spain, highlights loneliness, the lack of alternative entertainment, the lack of motivation and the desire to escape from her reality as triggering aspects.
The long time spent alone by young people from low-income families is a crucial factor, explain Genis Segundo, from Fundacion Gasol, and Carmen Garcia, from Caritas. Nor do they have many more leisure options if they do not have parks close to home, or if the ones that exist are not in good condition or are not safe, Garcia explains. In addition, in many cases parents cannot allow their children to do extracurricular activities in the afternoons, which was the case with Alarcon and Facundo.
To tackle his son’s problem, Alarcon asked Caritas for help and they began to work with one of his psychologists. From that moment on, she had to carry the router and all the computer cables so he couldn’t use it. “Even so, he found cables around the house that he could use, he was like a drug or alcohol addict,” laments the mother.
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 received help from Caritas for a similar situation. They are mother and son and live in Gijon. When he started primary school, at the age of six, the school provided Daniel with a computer to study, which he also used to play. At the age of nine he had already become a problem: “The time to take away the computer or tell him to turn it off was already a conflict. He broke a lot of things, ”remembers his mother.
The minor spent playing between 10 and 12 hours a day: “I hardly slept.” The situation worsened 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 began working with the Family Support Technical Intervention Team (EITAF), from the municipal social services. Through them, Daniel began to go to Llugarin, a Caritas day center, where he spent the afternoons while Marta worked. There they did his homework and they worked with him on his addiction and his family conflicts. Although they had the help of EITAF and Caritas, Marta had to leave her job because she spent many hours away from home.
Now the young man almost no longer plays video games, he has replaced them with social networks and has greatly reduced the hours in front of the screen. His parents installed a parental control service on his mobile that restricts his use of the Internet to a maximum of four hours a day. Even so, when calculating, Daniel says that during the week he spends between four and six hours a day with the screens (television and mobile). The figure rises to seven or eight hours on the weekend, which is when the telephone is not limited.
Many times the problem is that the children are with the mobile, but their fathers and mothers are next to them doing the same
Carmen Garcia, responsible for the Childhood and Family programs of Caritas Spain
Carmen Garcia, from Caritas Spain, explains that for minors who belong to low-income environments, video games also have the quality of allowing them to be who they want to be. “They allow them to get out of their reality, which is quite complicated, and abstract from it,” she details. Garcia also warns that when it comes to young people who belong to marginal environments, they are more likely to use the digital world hiding their identity. “Children from the Canada Real have come to tell us that they do not say the area in which they live to avoid being rejected,” she details.
The NGO’s head of Childhood and Family also points out that in many cases minors are a reflection of their elders: “Many times the problem is that the children are with their mobile phones, but their fathers and mothers are next door doing the same thing.” . She stresses that the limits set by adults are increasingly blurred and that in many cases there are even perception problems. When they prepared the report, from Caritas they were surprised to see that the parents considered that the rules in the 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 proposes that parents set real limits, but that they do not apply them only to their children, but that they also follow their own rules. It is committed to restricting the use of technology and quality family time as fundamental elements. “There are families that don’t know how to get involved in their children’s education, how to accompany them,” says Garcia.
Caritas also shows concern about the lack of motivation that it observes in these children in their context. They don’t have the financial resources, but many times they don’t have other support from their closest relatives either, and that also includes the motivational part. It also stands out that in many children they have observed a total lack of motivation: “They have no expectations or dreams.” Garcia talks about the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Children see themselves reflected in their parents and grandparents. “They accept that, even if they don’t like it, it is the life that has touched them and it will not change. Their situation bores them and they escape with the screens ”, he concludes.
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Source: EL PAIS