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Early screen exposure linked to cognitive and developmental problems in children

SCREEN TIME
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The statistics from France are frightening and the problem is the same in North America.

Once again, experts are sounding the alarm regarding the dangers of exposing children to electronic screen use. This isn’t a surprise — experts have been saying this for a while now — but the numbers (from France, in this case) are alarming.

In a forum published in the French newspaper Le Monde on January 17, professionals at the French Screen Overexposure Collective (Collectif Surexposition Ecrans, or CoSE) expressed their concern about the sharp increase in intellectual and cognitive disorders in children, and warn about the need to fight against early overexposure to electronic screens (television, computer, tablet, and phone).

The National Education department published its benchmarks and statistical references for 2018, including the number of school children who are suffering from some variety of cognitive handicap. “The results are striking,” laments a representative of CoSE. “The number of children between the ages of 2 and 11 suffering from intellectual and cognitive problems, psychological problems, and language disorders is increasing dramatically. Since 2010, cases of intellectual and cognitive disorders have increased by 24 percent, psychological disorders by 54 percent, and speech and language disorders by 94 percent.” In the space of 10 years, children have developed more and more difficulty expressing themselves, learning, and managing their emotions.

A link with overexposure to screens?

Pediatricians, child psychiatrists, psychologists, and experts from related fields are all asking: might not the environmental factor explain the progress of these serious disorders in children? They highlight the many studies conducted over the last 20 years, establishing a causal link between too early exposure to screens and sleep, language, behavior and attention disorders.

For older children, other studies confirm the impact of excessive exposure to screens on physical activity, weight, vision, mood (anxiety, isolation, and depression) and hypersexualized or violent attitudes due to pornography and violence.

Young children watch too much TV

The battle promises to be tough, since parents themselves don’t seem to take this fact into account. While many experts advocate not exposing children to screens before the age of three, the Longitudinal French Study From Childhood reveals that two-thirds of two-year-old children watch television every day. (Statistics in America suggest the situation is no better on the other side of the Atlantic.) The Collective calls on public authorities to support research teams, so that France can carry out studies that would remove all doubts on the subject, and to develop a national strategy for risk prevention, including creating support for parents.

Don’t wait for someone else to act

There’s no doubt that screens are an easy way to entertain children of all ages and to free parents up for work and other activities, but everything points to the price for such an “easy out” being too high. It’s time for parents everywhere to take action to protect their child’s future by limiting children’s screen time, and turning to other forms of age-appropriate entertainment and education, especially direct parent-child interaction (playing board games, reading and telling stories, engaging in crafts, etc.). It will certainly require sacrifices—for example, maybe we need to start by limiting our own screen time—but the reward will be a richer life for our children.

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