Without a cell phone until finishing ESO: this is the Basque plan for families to delay it

Three Basque schools have begun to fight a battle against the premature and inappropriate use of smartphones, which is advancing promising results.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
12 May 2024 Sunday 16:25
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Without a cell phone until finishing ESO: this is the Basque plan for families to delay it

Three Basque schools have begun to fight a battle against the premature and inappropriate use of smartphones, which is advancing promising results. The pilot initiative, promoted by the Department of Health of the Basque Government and developed first in Durango, Orio and Ibarra, tests an ambitious program that includes training for students, teachers and families, field work around health mental and emotional health of young people, the dissemination of semi-annual commitments to delay the purchase of the first mobile phone or an experiment, aimed at 4th year ESO students, which contemplates the challenge of remaining a week without the smartphone.

The program in question has been named ZEOS and behind it are Telmo Lazkano and Maitane Ormazabal, two of the 50 members of the committee of experts convened by the Ministry of Children and Youth to “protect minors in the digital environment.” The great virtue of the project is that it aims to be transformative and effectively attack a problem that has devastating effects at the level of mental health, attention span or cyberbullying, as well as in relation to the time management of adolescents, who average between five and six hours a day in front of the screen on weekends.

The initiative is not about prohibiting, but about raising awareness, informing from a rigorous point of view about the effects of inappropriate use of smartphones at very early ages, and, from there, it is about deciding how to act, giving the possibility of implementing strategies that have been offering results.

“The basis of freedom to choose is knowledge. We have to know what we have in our hands, and above all, what teenagers have in their hands, since it is not a neutral technology, but a highly addictive one. We must know how these companies profit from having us as much time as possible in front of the screen. We must know what the persuasive techniques that they use to achieve this addictive effect among users consist of or how certain social networks affect the self-esteem of adolescents,” Telmo Lazkano pointed out these days in an information session before around a hundred mothers and fathers of the Ikastola Kurutziaga of Durango.

The atmosphere experienced in these sessions aimed, in a differentiated way, at families, teachers and students, is eloquent of the context that surrounds this problem. In general, there is a lot of ignorance about the magnitude of the problem, and the gesture of the attendees becomes distorted as Lazkano offers data on the decline in the attention capacity of minors, the increase in cases of dysmorphia (due to the use of filters on networks) or the exponential increase in mental health problems, related especially to anxiety and depression.

Apart from this part of the program related to the dissemination of the problem, another of the axes of the project involves evaluating the relationship of young people in 4th year of ESO with these devices, also analyzing their mental and emotional health. In this section, a field study is carried out taking into account indicators related to the feeling of loneliness, anxiety or depression, and crossing the data with surveys carried out among teachers and families.

On a strictly practical level, the pilot project focuses on two strategies that are proving effective. Firstly, commitments are made in which families, if they so decide, agree not to buy their first smartphone in the following six months, something that they can renew later. It is about not making the journey on their own and gradually approaching the age that experts recommend for the first mobile phone, 16 years old and always having previously educated them about it.

“It is a simple measure, but we see that it works. In some centers in Gipuzkoa, 90% of 2nd year ESO students continue without a mobile phone, something unthinkable a few years ago. In any case, it must be emphasized that it is not just about age, but that it is essential to educate,” says Lazkano.

The program, finally, develops the No challenge initiative implemented for the first time in an institute in San Sebastián by Lazkano himself. 4th year ESO students who wish to participate in this dynamic must leave their phones locked for a week and write down their feelings in a diary.

After the first few days in which they usually show a clear picture of dependency, students usually express that they feel freer and have much more time to dedicate themselves to other activities. The objective is to make them aware of their relationship with mobile phones in order to promote healthier habits. The aim is for adolescents to confirm in first person the knowledge they have previously developed, although Lazkano emphasizes that "change begins with the adults themselves."