Television, smartphone, tablet: beware of screens!

It’s been proven: several scientific studies have established a link between the early and excessive use of screens by young children and problems with their health (in particular, increased risk of becoming overweight, sleep, language and behaviour).
The exposure of young children to screens has therefore become a public issue that has been taken up for several years by the medical community and associations. Several MPs have even tabled bills to protect children from this overexposure to screens.
What are the real dangers? How can they be explained? And above all, how should we react?

Children need a variety of sensory experiences

The first years of life are fundamental for the maturation of the brain. And this maturation involves multisensoriality.

Before the age of 3, children grow up naturally developing their 5 senses through playful experiences: they are curious, they have fun, they touch everything and put everything in their mouths, they love to hold things to their nose, sniff the smells of stuffed animals… They learn to move their ten fingers and their body, to smell, to catch, to taste, to sing, to enter into a relationship with other people.

These experiences during this period, known as the first 1000 days, are essential: they will enable him to grow up well. This is how he discovers the world and understands very quickly that he can act on his environment.

But in this environment, one object is becoming increasingly important: the screen.

The child in front of the screen

In front of a screen, the senses obviously called upon are hearing and sight. But not smell, taste or touch. But let’s remember: toddlers need to use all their senses to develop all their abilities.

Moreover, moving images follow one another rapidly. They have a hypnotic effect (which explains why our little ones love them so much!) and put the child in a passive attitude. As a spectator, he is subjected to what he should discover for himself. They cannot act on their environment, whereas on the contrary they need to be the actors of their discoveries.

And the more time a child spends in front of a screen, the less time he or she has left to play freely, engage in physical activities and interact with those around him or her!

The time spent in front of screens is therefore a time when the child cannot acquire new capacities that are essential for his or her evolution, does not develop fully, and does not become autonomous.

Real risks

The site proposes a list of risks associated with too much exposure to screens in young children.

These risks, which have been established by the scientific community, concern
– motor skills;
– socialisation;
– cognitive abilities such as short-term memory, language development and school learning;
– emotional control;
– attention;
– sleep (particularly because of “blue light”);
– health: overweight, fatigue, posture problems, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, long-term cardiovascular problems. A more recent concern is the “epidemic” of myopia in young children as the eye adapts to seeing at short distances in front of a screen. A good therapy is to look “far away”, i.e. from a few metres to infinity.

Are screens too much a part of our daily lives and those of our children?

Each household now has an average of more than 5 different screens! Screens are part of our world not only through television, but also through computers, tablets, games consoles and especially smartphones. New technologies that can quickly become, if you are not careful, time consuming. For us adults… but also for our children.

A study by Inserm and Ined*, which is regularly updated, looks at the use of digital screens by toddlers. Even though situations vary greatly from one family to another, depending in particular on the parents’ hobbies or the socio-economic background of the household, the latest edition of the study reveals several elements that should be taken into account:

– only one parent in seven would follow the recommendation not to expose toddlers to television, smartphones or tablets

– one in two children start watching television before the age of 18 months

– at 2 years old, 1/4 of children are exposed to smartphone and tablet screens

– 16% even use these screens “intensively”: by the age of 5, they will spend an average of one hour a day on them, in addition to the time spent watching television

– in the end, around 10% of children have a “very excessive” consumption of screens, given their age.


Exposure to screens was measured in 13,117 children at the age of 2 and extrapolated to the whole generation of children born in 2011.

What can be done?

For all the reasons mentioned, experts and public authorities recommend not exposing toddlers to television, smartphones or tablets, and limiting the time spent in front of screens for older children.

Let’s start by ruling out the wrong reasons why parents may be tempted to put their child in front of a screen:

– To calm them down? In reality, young children can be overstimulated and therefore excited by the images that follow one another and the noise that accompanies them. Moreover, they do not learn to regulate their emotions themselves.

– Helping them to learn? Some screens may have educational benefits, but they are not essential before primary school: it is better to read a story or listen to music. What’s more, a child really learns when using the screen if and when there is an adult around to explain what is going on and to respond to their needs and emotions.

Here are a few points of reference suggested by Mon enfant et les écrans, the website created by the Union nationale des associations familiales :

– Before the age of 3: play, talk, turn off the TV!
– Between the ages of 3 and 6: limit screens, share them as a family!
– Between the ages of 6 and 9: the screen can become a learning tool

And us parents: when are we in front of our screens?

Parents, let’s set an example: let’s turn away from our screens when we are with our children. Even if it’s not always easy to make ourselves available, let’s remember that our children need us, interaction and activities, to wake up, discover the world around them and develop well. To tell them stories, play construction games, go for a walk..

Television cannot replace the child’s interactions with his or her environment. The “baby-sitter” screen certainly provides comfort for parents, but it does not replace human relationships and the multi-sensory experiences that are essential for the child. The world around them is entertaining, lively and interesting, so let’s take advantage of it!

What can we offer our little ones when we turn off our screens?

Different activities around the 5 senses

Parents, use your creativity to develop your child’s sight! You can make up stories from picture books, play picture lotto, show your child the details of a car, a doll, or any other small toy! They will thus exercise their visual acuity and at the same time develop their dexterity by handling them! A walk in the open air with the discovery of the fauna and flora is also an excellent way to vary the pleasures.

Let’s go for a cooking workshop. There’s nothing like developing taste by offering your child small quantities of the elements you handle. A multi-sensory activity par excellence, cooking workshops are also an excellent way to get closer to your child and interact with him/her.

A scent lotto to stimulate the sense of smell! A real treat for your child’s nostrils, and they will soon be unable to do without this activity! Take them on a journey to the land of scents with spices such as cloves and cinnamon ….

Musical activities are an excellent way of making your child’s hearing aware of different sounds: songs, nursery rhymes, musical pieces, instruments, etc. Don’t hesitate to make maracas, drums or other musical instruments with your child.

The painting or salt dough workshop will delight your child! But he can also touch the earth or play in a sandbox… Nature is full of possibilities: let him touch animals, flowers or even stones, always keeping a watchful eye!

All these games allow the child to manipulate, create, imagine, and work on his coordination. The learning principle also applies here: by showing and doing with the child, the child will then do everything on his own.
Finally, the child must also learn to “do nothing”, not to be in a permanent activity.

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