The impact of screens on a child depends largely on the family environment.

The impact of screens on a child depends largely on the family environment.

For several years, research has highlighted the harmful effects of young people’s overexposure to smartphones, tablets and televisions. A recent study by French researchers from the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Statistics further demonstrates this, but shows that one factor is even more important: family context. The results of this work were published in Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Screens and development: scientific research is difficult to do

Science has little prospects for screens because their widespread use is relatively new, making it difficult to obtain data. Existing studies are conducted using cohorts, groups of participants followed over time. This French study is based on the ELFE cohort: it used data from 14,000 children collected between the ages of 2 and 5½ years.

Child Cognitive Development: How was this research done on children?

Parents reported their child’s daily screen time at ages 2, 3.5, and 5.5 years.specify the authors in the press release. They were also asked to report whether they turned on the television during family dinners during the child’s second year of life.“At the same time, scientists asked them about their lifestyle and daily activities.”Finally, various cognitive domains were assessed: language development at 2 years, nonverbal reasoning at 3.5 years, and general cognitive development at 3.5 and 5.5 years.“, they emphasize.

Their results are consistent with what science has demonstrated for several years: at ages 3.5 and 5.5, time spent in front of screens was associated with lower overall cognitive development scores.especially in the areas of fine motor skills, language, and independence.“, the authors note.

Screens: Lifestyle has a greater impact on children’s cognitive development

But the continuation of their work showed the importance of other parameters of child development. “When statistical models included lifestyle factors that may influence cognitive development, the negative association decreased and became low in magnitude.“, the authors caution. For example, the timing of exposure appears to have a significant effect: turning on the TV during meals, regardless of duration, was associated with lower rates of language development.”This can be explained by the fact that television, by capturing the attention of family members, affects the quality and quantity of interactions between parents and children. However, at this age it is crucial for language acquisition., explains Shuai Yang, doctoral student and co-author of the study. (…) In addition, television adds background sound that interferes with family discussions, making sounds difficult to decipher and limiting verbal understanding and expression.

However, watching television while eating may be associated with social factors. “In healthy social environments, screen time is shorter on average, and we also tend to turn off the TV while eating. Jonathan Bernard, lead author of the study, develops in an interview with the publication France Culture. This is why we need to take social factors into account because these social factors influence both screen time and TV being on during meals, but also children’s cognitive development.French health authorities recommend that children under three years of age not be exposed to television at any time.

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