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Doctors are unanimous in their opinion that early exposure to screens leads to many disorders in children. Studies show that lots of screen time can cause children vision problems, and many reports show disorders related to sleep, concentration, behavior, language, and more. The list continues to grow.
In 2008, to help parents provide their children with a healthy framework for screen use, psychiatrist Serge Tisseron created the 3-6-9-12 rule, articulated around four essential stages of a child’s life: admission to pre-kindergarten, entering grammar school, mastery of reading and writing, and the transition to middle school or junior high school. Here’s the rule he proposes:
No screens before the age of 3
While we know that more than two-thirds of children under 2 watch TV every day, it’s useful to recall this basic rule, widely suggested by pediatricians. Tisseron points out that the best way to promote children’s development is for their parents to play with them, not for them to watch TV or play games on electronic devices. Just leaving the television on can be harmful to children’s learning, even if they aren’t watching it.
No game consoles before the age of 6
“As soon as digital games are introduced into the life of the child, they grab his attention, and this is obviously at the expense of his other activities,” says the psychiatrist. On average, children spend 30 minutes a day in front of their game consoles. But before getting into video games, children need to discover their own sensory and manual gifts.
To prevent children from feeling they are the “owner” of a console or a tablet, which makes controlling its use very difficult, Tisseron invites parents to declare that all digital devices used by the children belong to the entire family. When you have more than one child, make a schedule for who uses the devices at what time.
No internet before the age of 9, and then, only accompanied by an adult until middle school
According to Tisseron, parental accompaniment on the internet is not only intended to prevent the child from being confronted with violent or pornographic images. Parents must also inculcate three essential rules: Everything we put online can end up in the public domain, everything we put online will remain there forever, and everything we find online is questionable because we can’t know whether is true or if it is false without verifying it with reliable sources. The parent must be present to do this, planning with the child the time to be set aside for screen use and taking time to talk with him about what he sees and does.
“Free” internet use starting at the age of 12, but with caution
Even at this age, parental support is necessary. Parents need to define with their children the rules to be followed, to agree on predefined schedules for being online, to set up a parental control systems. This is the moment to talk together about downloading, plagiarism, pornography, and bullying, and to turn off wifi and mobile phones at night.
Of course, these rules need to be adapted to each family and to each child’s needs and maturity level. More detailed and nuanced versions of these guidelines can be found in the English version of the 3-6-9-12 pamphlet. Serge Tisseron was awarded an award for outstanding achievement for the development of the 3-9-6-12 idea by the Family Online Safety Institute in 2013 in Washington, D.C.
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