While science says that it takes 20 years to see an actual effect and, at most, young children have been using screens for seven to eight years; paediatricians, psychologists and psychiatrists are convinced that screens can have a huge impact on development and can be dangerous.
Most experts agree that disorders aggravated by screens, such as disruption of sleep, attention deficit, and learning difficulties, as well as problems with social interaction, increased frustration and language skills, have multiplied in recent years. Some go as far as to say that the effects of digital screens are a major public health issue that many have been slow to respond to.
With so much information out there, it is hard for parents to get answers to their most pressing questions: what are the best habits to instil when it comes to digital screens? What are the impacts of digital tools on our children’s behaviour, brains and mental health?
Advice per stage of development
The most consistent advice says that there should be no screens before the age of three, because the child should use whatever small amount of time awake they have to acquire their cognitive and social functions. The most common problem which can occur with very young children who have been exposed to screens is an inability to make the link between what they see on the screen and reality.
The recommendation until the age of 5-6 years is one hour a day of screen time, with any activity being monitored or experienced alongside an adult and not at meal times or bedtime.
When it comes to the effects on development at an older age, professionals say the brain continues to transform between the ages of 10 and 20 until it becomes an adult brain. These changes mainly concern personality such as the control of impulses, emotions and decision-making. Older children, leading into adolescence, are more likely to spend much of their screen time on social networks or on video games, and there lie their own problems.
Risk of addiction
A study by information science researchers in Californian on social media usage shows that the increased interactions and affirmations received while using these networks can provide so much pleasure and joy that the brain begins to crave it. The user seeks this pleasure more and more until they lose control and develop an addiction.
As for the effects of video games, the phenomenon is worse than the Internet, to the point that addiction among some players has been recognised by the World Health Organisation as a real drug-related disease since 2018. As a result, rehab centres have been set up in much the same way as those for alcohol and substance abusers.
No one has all the answers, although a major study is being conducted in the United States to try to get the most comprehensive picture of the effects of digital exposure.
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For the time being, the best advice given to parents is to follow current guidelines and not to worry about their children if they do not observe problems at school, at home or with friends.