He was fed to the screens. At 7 months old, installed in his baby seat, Martin already spends about two hours a day in front of the television, captivated by nursery rhymes. Then the screens rush into the breach and enter into his routine. So much so that at 2 and a half years old, the little boy struggles to play with the digital tablets of his friends of the same age. Tired of fighting, his mother bought him one. Martin then accesses “baby games” such as “draw a square with his finger” on the screen. The little one loves it. As soon as he wakes up, he points to the tablet stored above the refrigerator. He still has to wait until after school to be allowed to play… five hours in a row. “He had two obsessions: letters and the alphabet. He could spend hours watching videos where the alphabet is sung in several languages”, recalls Caroline*. The only way to take away his digital toy… turn on the television. “There, he said nothing more”, adds the young mother of 31 years, installed in Gironde. Who, since then, has measured how much she had put her finger in the gears. This early and excessive exposure, pediatrician Sylvie Dieu Osika has observed its emergence over the last decade. If the abuse of screens, among adults and adolescents, was already singled out in the early 2010s, it affects increasingly young children. Like Martin, now 5, many children are literally overexposed. At age 2, nearly 87% watch television, 27% are entertained using computers and tablets and 20% play games on a smartphone. Result: they spend an average of 3h11 of their day one-on-one with a device.
Should we fear a new form of addiction? The question is valid. Now, programs or games available through a screen no longer pause. “When a cartoon had a beginning and an end, it was easier for the child to stop looking at the screen. Now, because of the algorithms, the videos follow one another to constantly capture their attention. This instantly triggers the pleasure hormone “, details Dr. Dieu Osika. The practitioner is worried about this continuous flow that can cause symptoms approaching the phenomenon of addiction: “Some little ones only think of screens and end up hiding to use them…”, she notes.
In Essonne, Ava was also introduced to new technologies at a very young age. At 1 year old, her parents’ mobile phone no longer holds any secrets for her. In a few weeks, she managed to open the applications on her own to watch nursery rhymes or play games… “When the phone was taken from her hands, she was sad”, explains her mother, Lady, 38 years old.
Weaning young children off screens is urgent. Because this overexposure seriously harms their development. Among the hundred children under 4 years old whom she has already received in her office in Rosny-sous-Bois (Seine-Saint-Denis), Sylvie Dieu Osika observes language delays, attention disorders, sociability problems caused by this “syndrome”… Caroline, on the contrary, saw no danger in her son watching “educational” videos. He knew the names of the objects, he recited the alphabet… “Parents easily fall into the trap: they don’t realize that their children repeat without understanding”, warns the pediatrician. The young mother became aware of this when Martin’s little sister, who immediately preferred traditional games, began to express herself better than her eldest. “As he approached his 4th birthday, my son had the development of a one-and-a-half-year-old child,” she recalls. Lady, Ava’s mother, for her part, worried about her daughter’s “strange” behavior around the age of 17 months: “She no longer said ‘dad’ or ‘mom’ and was always turning on herself .” Until the day she found her daughter, back from the maternity ward where she had just spent four days for the birth of her last. Ava remained unresponsive. “She didn’t even realize I was gone,” says the stay-at-home mom in a broken voice.
A public health problem
Screen time isolates from the world. Adults for whom television, before the Internet, opened a window onto other realities, sometimes lose sight of it. For addictologist Alexandre Baguet, these sedentary and solitary hours cannot replace important moments in the development of a child: “A child needs to go out, meet friends and have quality exchanges with adults. .” Will the alarm signals launched by health professionals several years ago be heard? A national plan against the overexposure of children to screens is the subject of a bill brought by the Renaissance deputy for Loiret, Caroline Janvier. Currently being studied by senators, it could be implemented in the same way as public policies to fight against smoking or alcoholism. By providing support measures for parents, from pregnancy, then throughout the development of the child. And by also urging companies to write a prevention message on the packaging of digital objects.
In the meantime, faced with this public health problem, Dr. Dieu Osika, also a member of the Collective overexposure to screens (CoSE), supports parents in the management of this overexposure syndrome. “It was a trivial gesture for me to give my son a tablet, being addicted to my phone myself”, regrets Caroline. To take full-time care of her screen-dependent son, this former hairdresser has completely stopped her activity. From one day to the next, television and tablet remained off. The mother warned everyone around her: her son should no longer look at any screen. A “weaning” that goes so far as to avoid certain birthdays for fear of seeing tablets fall into Martin’s hands. The specialist Alexandre Baguet tempers: “The withdrawal must not generate endless conflicts with the toddlers, communicating with them on this subject is essential, otherwise we come back to the same lack of dialogue detrimental to the child…”
Caroline assures her: this new routine went off without a hitch. The story is a little different with Lady who has adopted the same radical strategy in order to “save” her little Ava. After a year and a half of deprivation, the little girl, now 4 years old, has regained normal development. She even has the right to occasionally watch a cartoon and no longer asks to stay in front of the screen for hours. “On the other hand, she relapsed with the mobile phone, I have to hide it all the time”, recognizes Lady, who sometimes surprises her daughter looking for the device. It is therefore difficult to protect children in a society where screens are omnipresent. But the educational challenge is considerable and it is better to identify it as soon as possible.
*Name has been changed.
Some useful pointers
Faced with the plethoric offer of digital games, it is difficult for parents to find their way around. Here are some tips from the specialists.
Turn off screens
- For children under 2 years old, according to doctor Anne-Lise Ducanda.
- Until the child can speak properly, for pediatrician Sylvie Dieu Osika.
lay down rules
Following the 4 step method recommended by clinical psychologist Sabine Duflo.
It rests on four prohibitions:
- not the Morning
- not during the meal
- not beforefall asleep
- not in the child’s room