School, family and social networks. Who is educating our children?

Two young people chat while eating at one of the available tables on the Clariana de les Glòries lawn. © Images Barcelona / Àlex Losada

Education is a collective endeavour; we all play a role in shaping the minds of children, serving as their unwitting role models. The responsibility for a child’s education is a shared one, involving various stakeholders beyond families, such as schools, the media and sports clubs. In the complex task of preparing children for life in society, technology and social media have emerged as significant players. We’ve consulted experts from diverse fields to understand who contributes to educating our children and the methods they employ.

Family and school serve as the cornerstones of education, complementing each other and ideally working in tandem. However, demanding work schedules and the hectic pace of modern life can strain our work-life balance, turning us into parents who are stretched thin and often overprotective. It is unrealistic to expect schools to fulfil roles that we neglect at home. As educator Enric Prats emphasises, schools play an essential role in education, yet they face challenges and require additional resources, particularly in addressing issues like diversity and inclusion.

In the midst of it all, technologies and screens are competing with us, taking on roles in educating our youth about sexuality, acting as digital babysitters and serving as sources of entertainment. They are ubiquitous in children’s lives almost from birth, with 25 per cent of ten-year-olds and 70 per cent of twelve-year-olds using mobile phones on a regular basis, as per UNICEF’s 2021 study Impact of Technology on Adolescence. Relationships, Risks and Opportunities. And it isn’t just them. How often do we find ourselves engrossed in our phones in the presence of our children? How can we expect them not to misuse these devices when we struggle to set limits ourselves? Adults too turn to the internet for information on education and parenting, with the famous “tribe” now extending its reach into the realm of influencers.

The growing access of children to mobile phones, coupled with inadvertent exposure to pornography, is becoming a source of concern for many families. Pornography often becomes the reference for teenage sexual behaviour, with adolescents accessing explicit content at increasingly younger ages through the internet. Some studies even suggest exposure as early as eight years old. In response to the lack of regulation, numerous family associations are advocating to postpone the acquisition of a first mobile phone until the age of sixteen.

In the past, we only had to worry about what they watched on television. However, children’s programming has shifted to the internet, where the prevalence of Spanish, at the expense of Catalan, is noticeable. What remains the same are the stereotypes, portraying boys as warriors and achievers, while girls are cast in nurturing and protective roles.

Meanwhile, we forget that children should play, run, jump, climb and play sport. Who ensures that children have time to simply be children?

Enric Prats

Enric Prats
Vice-Dean for Students and Communication at the University of Barcelona

For many years, we made the distinction that the family is responsible for bringing up children, and the school is responsible for teaching them. This notion still rings true among numerous professionals and individuals in the education sector. Schools definitely play a role in upbringing; there’s no doubt about it. Whether intentionally or not, schools, along with all compulsory and post-compulsory education, aim to prepare individuals for life, representing the most explicit form of education.

It goes beyond mere teaching, instructing or training; education involves facilitating self-discovery, interpersonal relationships, and understanding how the world works to adapt to and transform it. Naturally, professionals, particularly teachers, are the key players, who bear the primary responsibility.

We acknowledge that the child is the one engaged in learning and education, but it is the teachers who bear the professional and ethical responsibility to guide this process, both individually and collectively. Education is not the sole domain of a single teacher but rather a collaborative effort involving an entire team – from the caretaker welcoming children in the morning to the school manager, the lunch preparer and server, and a whole host of adults with a role in the school’s day-to-day running. Everyone educates, whether intentionally or not, whether consciously or not, and regardless of their effectiveness. While schools play a vital part in this process, they do not operate in isolation. The active participation and trust of other stakeholders, including families, administrations, and the entire education sector, are indispensable. It is society at large that plays a role in education, and it is crucial to properly allocate roles and responsibilities among each participant in this collective endeavour.

Marina Subirats

Marina Subirats
Expert in educational and women’s sociology

One of the fundamental values emphasised is the importance of studying. When secondary school students are asked about what their parents expect from them, their common response is “To study”. This expectation stands out as the most prevalent and is often the only one mentioned. Nevertheless, a value that appears to be less instilled in them is that of responsibility. When queried about their go-to support in times of illness, financial strain, or other challenges, parents rarely cite their children. This suggests a transmission of individualism and a sense of entitlement rather than instilling a sense of duty. This observation holds particular significance in understanding the behaviour of today’s youth.

For girls, the media and parents often stress the value of beauty, attention to image and exhibitionism. These values, to some extent, contrast with the traditional virtues instilled in women, such as modesty and discretion, even though an emphasis on image has always been present. The need for exhibitionism has been further fuelled by social media. Conversely, boys are often instilled with the values of strength, success, courage, and competitiveness. Although historically pertinent in perilous societies, these attributes now manifest in diverse ways, potentially contributing to a rise in childhood accidents. There has been a shift from strength as a social necessity to strength as a display of dominance and impunity, occasionally at the expense of the weaker.

Àlex Gutiérrez

Àlex Gutiérrez
Journalist, head of media at the newspaper Ara

Screens, once known as TVs, have been a part of our lives for decades. Over the past few generations, young people have been exposed to a more than generous dose of audiovisual content every day. It might sound obvious, but when we discuss the risks of screens today, the focus often shifts to the device itself. However, the real concern lies in what is being watched.

In past generations, content was limited, created by companies with a sense of responsibility, and it was manageable for families to oversee a child’s viewing habits. In contrast, the current paradigm offers an almost infinite array of videos. While there are fantastic ones that blend aesthetic appeal with meaningful content and values, they are intermingled with others designed solely to keep the user glued to the screen. It might be tempting to dismiss them, but the distribution networks, which thrive on consumed minutes, play a role as accomplices by inundating their recommendation engines with inferior content. A handful of companies now wield the control that was once in the hands of families.

As soon as one video ends, another promptly starts, and it might not align with the theme of the previous content. This isn’t the choice of the child or the adult but rather an algorithm that prioritises mind-numbing stimuli over individual preferences. This underscores the necessity for stronger regulation of the oligopoly governing content distribution, ensuring they implement robust measures to safeguard children. Despite attempts to portray the algorithm as an abstract concept, it is far from innocent.

The digital explosion has taken a toll on the presence of Catalan content in children’s programming. As viewership has transitioned to the internet, the dominance of Spanish has become overwhelming.

© Adriana Eskenazi © Adriana Eskenazi

Erika Lust
Feminist porn director and promoter of The Porn Conversation

The impact of pornography on the sexual education of young people has ignited intense social debates. The current generation is bombarded with images fostering unrealistic expectations about their bodies, identities and sexuality, particularly on the internet and social media. Given these challenges, comprehensive sex education becomes paramount. It’s crucial to recognise that the responsibility for proper education lies with society and educational institutions, not with pornography. Porn, being a form of fiction, primarily serves to titillate and entertain, not to offer explicit tutorials on sex.

Much like honing our media literacy skills to navigate a polarised political landscape filled with fake news, it is equally important for young people to develop literacy in pornography. Given that most content is created by men and often portrays a narrow spectrum of sexuality, being literate in pornography becomes essential. This literacy is crucial for understanding what we come across and being mindful that reproducing what we see may not always be advisable.

Just as many of us have become conscious consumers in our choices of food and clothing, we must also adopt a mindful approach to consuming pornography. Acknowledging its persistent existence and consumption, it is crucial to highlight the availability of alternatives that promote a more ethical and responsible perspective on sexuality. This shift begins with education and extends to platforms offering pornography with a different viewpoint.

Anna Ramis

Anna Ramis
Promoter of the campaign #de0a3PantallesRES

Adults use screens in various aspects of our lives, impacting the dynamics and structure of family life. The time dedicated to screens, which is not only for work but also for entertainment and communication purposes, now competes with moments we once spent with our children. This shift results from the challenge of juggling multiple responsibilities all at once.

We talk at length about teenagers and their social media habits, but have we ever stopped to notice that when they come home, they find a parent in front of the computer screen working or, on the sofa, endlessly scrolling on their mobile phone? What about the toddler who proudly says, “Mummy, look at me”, after finishing something, only to receive a “wait” in response?

If someone ignores me because they are engrossed in their mobile phone, it may or may not affect me. However, if my mother doesn’t look at me or only glances in my direction occasionally because her main attention is focused on social media, a tablet, a screen or the TV, it does affect me. Because our humanity is shaped through the gaze and attention of those who love us. While we often discuss children looking at screens, the deeper issue is children not being looked at by their adult role models at an age when their brains are being moulded and require this attention to reinforce learning, shape language and form identity. Unfortunately, many of us remain oblivious to this fact. Screens in the hands of adults divert our attention from children, some of whom are already urging their parents to put down their mobile phones.

Manuel Armayones

Manuel Armayones
Coordinator of the Behavioural Design Lab at the UOC

When it comes to the impact of social media on children’s education, the conversation often boils down to two opposing views. On one side, there are those who argue that in the 21st century, trying to restrict or ban the use of mobile phones is unrealistic and encroaches on freedom. On the flip side, there are proponents of a complete ban, a stance some schools have already taken.

Amidst this debate, a more moderate perspective suggests that technology, including smartphones and social media, isn’t inherently good or bad. Instead, its impact depends on how it is used. This voice advocates for treating technology as a tool for education, much like any other, and emphasises the importance of education itself, along with nurturing a critical mindset.

Finding someone who contends that social networks are tools designed exclusively to foster addiction is a tougher task. This addictive quality is not attributed to any grand “conspiracy” but rather to the straightforward motive of making loads of money. Interestingly, when it comes to discussions about children and teenagers, it appears that the blame for missing study time, lack of concentration at home, or being sleepy in school due to late-night video binging is placed squarely on the youth and, by extension, on parents who supposedly fail in their role as educators. Imagine applying a similar rationale to pathological gambling or any other behavioural addiction. It would be akin to blaming the individual for lacking willpower. The dynamics with social media are strikingly similar.

Maybe we need more research to observe how various factors evolve among groups of young people: those who use social networks without restrictions, those whose use is externally monitored, and those who don’t use them at all. The results could prove quite surprising.

Monika Jiménez

Monika Jiménez
PhD in Audiovisual Communication and expert in the effects of advertising

There is a tendency to attribute various societal issues to advertising, yet advertising itself is neither inherently good nor bad; rather, it is certain elements within advertising that warrant scrutiny. And let’s not forget that it is one of the most tightly controlled and regulated activities. The challenge lies in the fact that both children and adults often lack the tools needed to decode its messages.

Advertising plays a role in shaping children’s body image, with a noticeable absence of diversity in the models presented, laden with stereotypes. While efforts to challenge these stereotypes can be made in schools – such as teaching that toys are not gender-specific –, persistent portrayals in advertisements, where girls are assigned caregiving roles and boys are assigned action roles, contribute to the reinforcement of these stereotypes. This influence includes toy catalogues and packaging, as advertising is a very broad concept.

The kind of products advertised also bears an impact on children. Take, for instance, adverts promoting ultra-processed foods: every element, from the visuals to the music, is carefully crafted to make these products appealing and stimulate consumption. While adults possess the tools to understand the adverse health implications, children often lack that awareness.

Contrary to the belief that children don’t watch television, early childhood still engages in TV viewing. Many brands choose to overlook the guidelines of protected viewing hours and opt to pay fines. On social media, a platform where teenagers are notably more active, influencers should also disclose content that essentially functions as advertising.

Claudia Diaz Clàudia Díaz

Clàudia Díaz and Carmen Granados
Experts in children’s play

Play is probably the most powerful self-educational tool available to children. Educators such as Francesco Tonucci, Alexander Neill and Maria Montessori based their pedagogical approaches on the absolute confidence that children have the capacity to direct their own learning.

Carmen Granados Carmen Granados

Creating these educational models can feel like a far-off dream in our society right now. Unfortunately, it seems like we are heading in the opposite direction. Who is educating them? The way we are educating our children these days is a bit of a mess, with screens taking over, parents being pulled in too many directions and going into overprotective mode, and an education system that is overloaded. Consequently, we are missing the mark on giving our children the essential space for independent play.

We tend to overlook the fact that if there’s no time for unstructured play without adult supervision, it becomes challenging for kids to learn how to relate to others, self-regulate and handle frustrations and conflicts. Play, often relegated to a secondary role, is, in reality, as fundamental a need as eating and sleeping. We confuse sports training and extracurricular activities with the free and autonomous play that children truly need.

In a society that values play, efforts are made to ensure that children can safely play in the streets, that there’s room for play in classrooms (at least until the age of twelve), and that work-life balance laws allow parents to take care of their children at reasonable hours. Guaranteeing quality play automatically translates into a better education system, a safer country and more relaxed families. Now, who can argue against such a worthwhile investment?


Xavier Pastor
UOC lecturer, expert in conflict resolution

Beyond the physical benefits, playing sport, from an educational point of view, has two really appealing sides: competition and collaboration. A sports competition is a simulation of any real-life situation. On the collaborative front, it teaches children and even adults to be part of a team to accomplish a common goal. Playing requires collaboration, passing the ball, recalling plays, considering teammates and effective communication. It demands an understanding of both one’s role and that of others, fostering empathy and forging connections. Remarkably, all of this unfolds within the framework of a competitive activity, where individuals compete and strive to show off their skills on the playing field, aiming for shared objectives. While scoring goals or making epic shots is the immediate goal, there is a broader primary objective – constantly honing your game and putting into practice all the knowledge you have acquired. These dynamics mirror real life; just as in a company you work with colleagues, there is also a competitive goal, which is to have the customer buy your product.

Children must learn how to navigate conflict situations. To me, competition isn’t inherently a conflict; rather, it’s an integral part of how a game is organised. Conflict arises when competition is experienced in an adversarial manner, reaching a point where, in pursuit of the ultimate goal, rules are broken, or violence is employed.

Unfortunately, there are instances where coaches and teachers place greater emphasis on the end goal of winning than on practising the game itself. Sports serve as more than just a simulation platform for learning and play; they also provide an opportunity to put basic principles into action, preventing and resolving conflicts through dialogue.

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