“If screen time is important, the context of children’s exposure matters a lot, if not more”

2024-04-20 15:00:13
A child looks at a screen, in Paris, February 4, 2024. JOEL SAGET / AFP

Jonathan Bernard is a researcher at the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Statistics (Inserm-Inrae-Université Paris Cité-Université Sorbonne Paris Nord). He conducts research on young children’s exposure to screens and its influence on their development and health. The study he carried out on the data of nearly 14,000 children from 2 to 5 and a half years old, published in September 2023, has, like others before it, demonstrated a negative relationship between the time of Screen exposure and children’s development. But it also highlighted, he explains, that this relationship is diminished when the family living environment is taken into account.

Children’s overexposure to screens has become a political issue. But from when, from what threshold, do we do “badly”? Many parents ask themselves the question…

The word “overexposure” has entered common parlance, but I have some reservations about using it because it is vague. It refers to exposure of children beyond health recommendations, without precisely defining this “beyond”. Is it by little? Greatly ? By how much, precisely? And at what age, exactly?

The word cannot be understood, moreover, if one does not have in mind the official recommendations which, on the subject, are diverse and sometimes discordant. Both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend not exposing children to screens before the age of 2; in France, ANSES [Agence nationale de sécurité sanitaire de l’alimentation, de l’environnement et du travail] is on the same line, but other authorities, such as the High Council of Public Health, recommend waiting until 3 years old, which corresponds to the age of entry into kindergarten.

There are also the “3-6-9-12” tags developed by the psychiatrist Serge Tisseron: no screen before 3 years, no portable game console before 6 years, no Internet before 9 years, and no ‘Unaccompanied Internet before 12 years old. Rather than talking about scientific thresholds or prohibitions, I prefer to talk about benchmarks.

Do we know how many young children are exposed beyond these benchmarks? And for how long?

We examined data from nearly 14,000 children from the French ELFE cohort [première étude longitudinale d’envergure nationale consacrée au suivi des enfants de la naissance à l’âge adulte] ; children born in 2011 on whom we collected data from the age of 2 to the age of 5 and a half – between 2013 and 2017, therefore. Parents reported daily time spent on different types of screens.

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