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Tips To Regulate "Screen Time" For Your Kids, From Infants To Teens

Six weeks old, and already hooked...
Six weeks old, and already hooked...
Martine Laronche

PARIS - Temptations for children take many forms: video games, computers, TV, tablets. According to French audience measurement company Mediametrie, children between four and 14 spend more than two hours in front of the TV every day.

On Jan. 22, the French Academy of Sciences issued a warning about children watching television or movies from too young an age. The Academy targets screens, not mothers and fathers. It advises parents to teach their children responsibility in regard to screen time from an early age.

This is particularly important because of how fast digital platforms are evolving. They are becoming more interactive and their content is changing as well, with more and more educational programs.

Serge Tisseron, psychiatrist, and Olivier Houdé, psychology professor, issued the following recommendations on behalf of the Academy of Sciences:

0 to 2 - Only tablets
Every study shows that non-interactive mediums (TV and DVDs) have no positive effects. DVDs for babies might even have negative effects: weight gain, slow speech development as well as a poor focus and attention span.

However, tablets with touch screens can play a role – with the help of adults – in the initiation to the digital world. “It’s the format that is best-suited to their intelligence level,” according to the Academy. Stimulus must be diversified, though, and must comprise both digital and non-digital formats. It should be noted that seeing violence on TV can create sleeping difficulties and psychological insecurity for very young children.

2 to 6 - No personal video game consoles
Between two and three years of age, passive and prolonged exposure to TV without a human interactive and educational presence is not advised.

After three years old, intelligence becomes symbolic and representative: a child is capable of “deferred imitation” – reenacting a scene after seeing it – and is capable of playing pretend. Screens can help children to understand the difference between what’s real and what’s virtual. At the same time, children must be also invited to talk about what they see.

From the age of four, computers and video game consoles can be used occasionally for family playtime, but at this age, playing on a console alone can quickly become repetitive and compulsive. “Before six, owning a console or a personal tablet comprises more disadvantages than advantages,” said the Academy. Obviously, every child is different and this advice should be heeded according to each child’s personality, however time spent on computers and consoles should be strictly regulated

6 to 10 - Learning self-regulation
Primary school is the best place to start educating children about screens and screen time. Teaching children about self-regulating from an early age is essential. According to Serge Tisseron, it’s always better to give children a fixed amount of daily screen time, and teach them to use this time responsibly. At home, parental control software on computers is necessary but insufficient. Children and parents must trust each other. Using screens and digital tools at home or at school can be a valuable education tool – for example with reading and math programs.

12 and above - Beware of nighttime sessions
“Digital tools are known to efficiently put the brain in a hypothetico-deductive mode,” said the Academy. A teenager can rapidly explore all the possibilities open to him or her – especially on the Internet – and practice his or her deduction skills. In other words, making good use of screens can help teenagers learn how to control their emotions, thoughts, actions and help their decision-making abilities.

On another level, an over-exclusive use of the Internet turns teenagers into “zapping” machines – where the thinking process becomes too quick, superficial, fluid and it hinders their memory and synthetic skills. An inability to focus, a child that always feels sleepy and starts to fall behind at school might be the first signs of nocturnal use of electronic devices. Clear ground rules must be established. It is important to talk to teenagers about what he sees and does in front of the screen, to help them develop critical thinking. Since they haven’t reached brain maturation yet, education and parental control are essential.

In regard to video games, a distinction must be made between excessive use and clever use of consoles. It is necessary to pick the right games. An “interesting” game associates sensorial and motor interactions with cognitive and narrative interactions. Social networks can also be a problem for teenagers, especially in a context of loneliness and low self-esteem.

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