SCREENS AND CHILDREN: HOW CAN WE STOP ALL THE MADNESS?

“Chocolate is all very well, but you don’t want to eat a kilo a day. And the same goes for screens.” Olivier Duris, psychologist and expert in our relationship with screens, is here to debunk received notions and to give us some tips for how to use them around children better!

Are screens dangerous?

Far from it... Long gone are the days when we first got our first phones at high school... accompanied by a monthly package of just 30 text messages! Nowadays, the average age for getting your first smartphone is barely age 10. Surrounded by screens at home, 58% of kids aged 7 to 12 also have their own games console. Screens are everywhere, as well as the conversations denouncing them. But do they really harm our children’s development?

Lots of studies show a link between overexposure to screens in children under 3 and a delay in beginning to talk. In their first three years of life (the 1000 days of Boris Cyrulnik), children are intrepid explorers who need to talk to real people, hold real objects to understand the wonderful world around them. At this age, screens don’t benefit them in the least and replace other activities and interactions that are vital to their cognitive development. So it’s simple, they’re just too young at that age!

You also need to distinguish between the two types of screen; non-interactive screens (like television) and interactive screens which require action from the user. Video games fall into this second category. When you play, you can’t just stare at the screen! Children have to take the initiative, make their own choices... all of which fosters the learning process.

Even if you’re a fan of Guillaume Musso, you can’t really compare him to Victor Hugo. In the same way, games don’t all have the same quality of content or educational impact. As well as the child’s age, the duration of use and the kind of interaction (so that’s quite a lot of factors...), you also and more than anything need to consider the “quality” of the content in question. Luckily, there’s a lot of other content around like PowerZ, all of it intelligent!

“We shouldn’t use screens as something screening us off from others but as something that unites us.”

Playing with your children is not just something you can enjoy together, but is also something that is important to their development. By laughing with them, you show how interested you are in what they’re doing and how much you love them.

Much more than just creating happy memories, video games are also a rich platform for conversing and sharing. Olivier Duris, who mediates using video games in his therapy sessions, has observed how good games are at getting people to talk.

So in the home as well, video games are a great way of talking to children about what they’re doing, and especially for getting them to open up emotionally. For kids (and sometimes adults too), feelings blow up like storms that are hard to control. Getting children to put what they’re feeling into words helps them control their emotions better. By commenting on what the game makes you or them feel, you’re encouraging them to express themselves and to understand their own reactions better!

Video games also help them develop a whole range of skills that are useful to them in their school life and their everyday life, including innovation, concentration, cooperation and so on as well as social skills! Yes, video games don’t shut kids up in a bubble, in fact, it’s the opposite! Children socialise when they play multiplayer games or the same games as their friends.

Keith Stuart goes as far as comparing Fortnite with what skate parks did a few years back. They’re much more than a place where you do a certain activity, they’re a meeting place. People’s appearance in game has replaced skater’s caps and dances have become a new language. With the rise of esports and streaming platforms like Twitch, watching others play has become just as important as playing yourself... And the community aspect takes precedence over the passive dimension. So something you thought was bad turns out to be good actually?

“The best parental control is parents!”

On average, kids aged between 3 and 10 spend 2 hours a day in front of screens – and spent three times as much time as that during the first lockdown. Is that too much? Yes, according to the WHO. Children should incease their outdoor activities and restrict their screen time to just an hour per day before the age of 5. However, screens are more and more a part of our children’s lives, including during their school day. Should we reduce the amount of screen time at home based on how much more central they are becoming at school? This is a paradox we still need to explore...

In any case, you have to set up family rules to restrict screen usage. To help you, the psychiatrist Serge Tisseron uses the tags 3-6-9-12 in his "screen diet". No television before the age of 3, then restricted use under supervision which gives way to more autonomy and self-regulation as the child grows. Sleep is a precious commodity; so it’s best to avoid screens before bedtime for better quality sleep. Meals should also be eaten strictly without screens for quality time with the family.

Setting rules for screen use isn’t easy so we’ve come up with a mobile app that includes a parental control feature. You can therefore set a time slot and duration of play time where the child cannot access the game outside these times. Ideally, you should discuss these rules with them and remain fairly flexible to prevent them from being frustated about having to stop right in the middle of an activity.

Last but not least, the best way to teach children how to use screens properly – and we know it’s not easy – is to lead by example! From the earliest age, children observe and imitate. So it’s up to us to teach them the right habits!

To sum up:

  • Video games are very cool and they’re fine for children as long as they’re a means for sharing, conversing and, if possible, contain intelligent content.
  • Because you don’t eat chocolate by the kilo, setting screen rules based on the child’s age prevents metaphorical indigestion.
  • The main thing is to talk to your child about it, have fun with them and share their hobbies!