Screens: How should we use them for our children?

September 1, 2023

Are screens dangerous for our children? It's not that simple!

It's impossible to ignore the warnings against screen use, especially for young children. From press articles to awareness campaigns, we hear every day that screens are dangerous for our children and that they must be protected at all costs. This has caused many parents to become distrustful of screens, or even to demonize them altogether. At Plume, we believe it's important to communicate transparently on this subject!

Screens: A Danger for Children's Health?

We understand the concerns of parents when recent studies sound the alarm about the risks of screen time, especially for young children. One such study is a large American study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which was published in October 2016. Journalists have echoed some of the study's lessons, including a disturbing finding: the time children spend on screens can limit other activities that contribute to their physical and mental development, such as playing, studying, discussing, or sleeping. The study also highlights the direct consequences of excessive screen time on the overall health of children, particularly the role screens play in contributing to problems with overweight and obesity in American children.

The alarmist prevention messages are about screen misuse!

However, upon closer inspection, the American institution makes an important clarification: problems arise "when screens replace physical activity, hands-on exploration, and face-to-face social interaction in the real world." This is a key point! The screen is a tool whose usefulness and value depend entirely on how it is used. The problem is not so much the content medium as the content itself. When faced with a screen that offers intellectual stimulation and nourishes our desire to learn, our brain awakens and is maintained. We have also been able to measure the positive impact of well-used screens on people suffering from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's.

Therefore, it is important to be selective in the solicitations linked to screens, to distinguish the useful from the futile, and, above all, to give screens their rightful place in your children's daily lives. The ideal is to limit screen time to less than an hour a day, always with a specific objective. Avoid any passive exposure of children to any screen, and do not forget to offer activities that are well anchored in reality.

When used properly, screens can be an asset for our brains and excellent tools for education.

However, like any disruptive tool, screens can have a negative influence on us. They can allow us to escape from reality, avoid social interactions, and become overly entertained, making them "safe havens" that we quickly become dependent on. As parents, these characteristics can lead us, despite our desire to do the right thing, to miss the potential cognitive benefits of screens and instead transform them into a "comforter" or even a "nanny" capable of channeling our children in times of crisis and/or offering us a little respite. This is where problems can arise...

Am I a bad teacher or parent for using devices?

At Plume, we don't want anyone to feel guilty. We've had moments where we've put our little ones under three years old in front of a cartoon episode. Does that make us monsters? Are we irresponsible parents? No. But it's important that we try to do better and help our children understand that screens can play a real role in their education.

When Aude Guéneau, the founder of Plume, designed her application, she didn't initially consider the use of screens: "As a French teacher, books and handwriting have always been essential tools in my job. But I wanted to offer Plume to as many people as possible, to help improve their reading and writing skills. While not all families have a 'book culture,' 95% of French homes have a screen and an Internet connection. The choice was clear: I designed a digital tool that awakens children and teaches them how to use screens with a daily usage time of 20 minutes. Using Plume helps channel your child's attention and develop their autonomy without risk to their health. In fact, it has the opposite effect!"

Screens: Making a Difference and Helping Our Children Make the Most of Them!

To conclude, we cannot deny the importance of screens in our lives. Even PIERRE-MARIE LLEDO, Neurobiologist at the head of the neurosciences department of the Pasteur Institute, reminds us of this very clearly in the article entitled "Can a moderate use of screens have a positive impact on our brain activity" published on the website of the Institute of Medical Education and Prevention (IEMP). He explains that while the screen is a disruptive tool, every time a disruptive tool has been invented in the history of humanity, our brain has become more powerful. For example, writing was the first disruptive tool, and while Socrates warned us that writing would impoverish our memory, this has not been the case. Similarly, digital technology is changing the way our brain works, just as the invention of writing changed our memory. Digital technology allows our brain to improve itself by externalizing certain cognitive functions. Delegating some tasks to the digital world allows us to focus our mental activity on other tasks that the digital world cannot perform for us, such as the possibility to make decisions based on our emotions and not on reason. Screens can be an asset to our brains and are already excellent tools in education.

Key points to remember:

  • Screens can be a beneficial tool for cognitive and educational purposes when used properly.
  • Children's use of screens should be accompanied by an educational strategy, and the content they view should be strictly evaluated by parents. Any passive exposure to screens can be harmful.
  • Children should have less than one hour of screen time per day, under supervision, and if possible, with the active accompaniment of an adult.
  • Screen time should be treated like any other activity, and children should understand that it should not take priority over outdoor games, family interactions, or interactions with the real world.
  • As parents, we should set an example: once at home, smartphones can be put away from the living room.

To combat the harmful effects of excessive screen use, the French Institute of Medical Education and Prevention has launched a website: Observatory on the Proper Use of Screens.

This site provides information on how to recognize if you are using screens too much, what consequences it can have, how to limit risks, and how to reduce excessive use. Adolescents, adults, parents, and seniors can all find answers to their questions and learn good behaviors to adopt to maintain moderation.

Join our pilot program

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