a French study rekindles the debate

To what extent do young children exposed to screens see their development altered? By publishing a new study in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, August 29a French team is relaunching this burning debate.

The study, in fact, leads its authors to put into perspective the negative impact of durations of exposure to television, computers, game consoles, tablets and smartphones on the brains of children aged 2 and 3 years. and a half or 5 and a half years. They even qualify as ” modest “ the harmful effect of these screens, once the family environment and the child’s lifestyle are taken into account. These results have barely been published, however, their interpretation divides experts, with some warning of the dangers of minimizing the harmful effects of screens, far from being trivial.

“The context of screen use would play an important role, undoubtedly more than just the time spent in front of screens”indicates Jonathan Bernard, from the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Statistics – National Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) – National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Inrae) – Universities Paris Cité and Sorbonne-Paris-Nord –, who led this study.

Read Caroline Janvier’s column, in December 2021: Article reserved for our subscribers “Children’s overexposure to screens could be the evil of the century”

The authors analyzed data from nearly 14,000 children followed within the French Elfe cohort. This is the first cohort, in mainland France, dedicated to the regular monitoring of children born in 2011 from birth until adulthood.

The researchers then essed these toddlers’ language development at 2 years old, their nonverbal reasoning at 3 1/2 years old, and their overall cognitive development at 3 1/2 and 5 1/2 years old. They also measured the weight, in this development, many other factors linked to the socio-economic status of their family (parents’ education level, working time, income, presence of brothers and sisters, etc.), to the child himself (sex, gestational age) and to his daily activities ( childcare arrangements, frequency of activities shared with parents, sleep duration, time spent outside, games without screens, etc.).

The importance of the family environment

Time spent exposed to screens is indeed harmful to the development of the child’s brain, confirms this team. But she qualifies this observation: this relationship “appears much weaker when the family living environment is correctly taken into account”. According to the authors, the impact of screens on cognitive development would drop by 40% to 80% once the weight of family factors is eliminated, and by an additional 10% to 20% once the child’s other activities are taken into account – a child who reads a lot, for example, will have better cognitive development than a child who reads little, all things being equal.

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