Children and screens: what science and health authorities say

Children and screens: what science and health authorities say

During his press conference at the Elysée on Tuesday January 16, Emmanuel Macron announced that he had brought together experts to work on “the proper use of screens” for children, at school and at home. A hard job considering that there are already a myriad of scientific studies on the subject, without reaching a consensus, and that the latter are far from being as alarming as one might believe. Explanations.

We left many families without instructions. We need to have a scientific consensus, that scientists begin to give us a plan and that we inform a public debate, which will then come“, underlined the Head of State regarding the problem of the time spent by children in front of screens. Without lifting the veil on the contours of any plan, the President of the Republic simply added that he excluded neither “restrictions” nor “bans” for this type of use. Tablets, smartphones, televisions, video game consoles, the government intends to tackle the problem of screens head-on to limit the risks linked to use excessive. Risks which vary, and are sometimes even nuanced, according to the scientific community.

Nuanced results

Sedentary lifestyle, learning difficulties, cognitive development, eating, behavioral, sleep and mental health disorders: scientific studies have been carried out for years to assess the potential harmful effects of screens on children. A titanic work which has to date not resulted in any consensus – even though it has been shown that the youngest children exceed the recommendations. It must be said that if certain studies have established an association between time spent in front of screens and at least one of the aforementioned disorders, this was either limited, or to be tempered depending on the type of screens or content, or even l age of the child.

For example, a recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health suggested that interactive engagement (texting or video games) was more harmful to sleep than television in adolescents. In the same vein, work presented in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry revealed that social media, television and computer use were associated with increased anxiety levels in adolescents, but not gaming. video. And a study published earlier this year in the journal Nature Human Behavior even highlighted the positive effects of television or computers on children’s general reading and writing skills when these moments were shared with their parents. Enough to complicate the task of those who are invited to make recommendations on the subject.

This does not mean that any amount of screen time is not harmful to younger generations, especially when it is excessive. A longitudinal study also showed in 2021 that children who spent the most time in front of screens had significantly higher mental health symptoms during the health crisis, while another suggested that reducing the time spent in front of screens a screen made it possible to increase physical activity in children. But it is important to point out that studies on the subject are currently far from unanimous, even within the scientific community.

In Europe, no screen before the age of 3

Other studies, this time putting into perspective the impact of time spent in front of screens on children, could further complicate the work of experts. A study published in 2022 in JAMA Psychiatry notably highlighted a link between time spent in front of screens and behavioral problems in children aged 12 and under, but while specifying that this was “weak”. More recently, it was a team of researchers led by Inserm who, without minimizing them, nuanced these harmful effects on cognitive development. Published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, the study concludes in particular that “screen time is not the only factor to take into account: the context in which screen use takes place could also represent an important factor. Furthermore, not all domains of cognition would be affected in a similar way.

It is also important to point out that health recommendations already exist, both nationally and internationally, regarding the time that children should or should not spend in front of screens. In Europe, the High Council for Public Health (HCSP) considers: “Before the age of 3, screens should be prohibited if the conditions for parental interaction are not met”, and adds that it The same goes for 3D screens for children under 5 years old. As for the World Health Organization (WHO), its opinion differs somewhat: “It is not recommended to place a one-year-old child in front of a screen (to watch television, a video or a video game) At two years old, one hour in front of the screen should be a maximum; less is better.” The global authority also recommends a maximum of one hour in front of screens between 3 and 4 years old.

The 3-6-9-12 rule developed in 2008 by psychiatrist Serge Tisseron, and notably put forward by the Interministerial Mission to Combat Drugs and Addictive Behaviors, recommends avoiding screens before age of 3 years, to limit them between 3 and 6 years old “from half an hour at 3 years old to 1 hour maximum per day at 6 years old”, to set rules with the child between 6 and 9 years old (without specifying a limit of time), then to “encourage him to manage his distractive screen time” and to favor “a flip phone without Internet or touch screen” between 9 and 12 years old. So many significantly different opinions to take into account to formulate the new “plan” requested by Emmanuel Macron, something which seems anything but easy.