social networks, video games… What is the impact of screens on the health of young people?

While the government wishes to redefine a framework for the use of screens by children, the true or false junior takes stock of the studies devoted to this subject.


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The Minister of Health Catherine Vautrin promised, Thursday February 1, new “regulatory recommendations” for the use of screens by young people. This framework will be defined by a group of experts attached to the Élysée and whose conclusions are awaited “in April”. Emmanuel Macron had already said in mid-January that “prohibitions” and “restrictions” could not be excluded.

Should we really be worried about the place taken by screens in the lives of children and adolescents? Séverine Erhel, teacher-researcher in cognitive psychology, answers questions from students at André Derain college, in Yvelines, L’Eyrieux college, in Ardèche, and Jean Perrin college, in Hauts-de-Seine.

15-24 year olds mainly watch social networks

“Is it true that 60% of the population’s screen time is reserved for television?” Ilyan wonders. According to a study by Vertigo Research for Le Figaropublished in April 2022, the French spend 60% of their free time on screens, all media combined (television but also social networks, video games and even music platforms).

Chiara would like to know if adolescents’ screen time is mainly reserved for social networks. Yes, if we are to believe this same survey – in which 14,000 people over the age of 11 participated. The preferred medium for 15-24 year olds in 2022 was Youtube, followed by Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok then the Playstation. For comparison, among 35-49 year olds, the number 1 media is Facebook, followed by Netflix and TF1. And among those over 60, France 2 is in the lead.

Video games can improve “cognitive abilities”

Clémence wonders if playing video games can improve children’s visual abilities. “Today we have a good small number of studies on the question of the link between playing video games and the cognitive perceptual skills of individualsanswers Séverine Erhel, teacher-researcher in cognitive psychology. And what we will observe is that indeed, playing video games is accompanied by an improvement in perception, an ability to see colors and contrasts. And also an improvement in what we call spatial cognition, it will be the ability to make, for example, mental rotations when playing a video game.”

Abilities that children will then be able to use in life.

A benefit for “emotion regulation”

“Do screens make us aggressive and alter our behavior?” Karol wonders. It depends on the content and the time spent in front of a phone or computer, explains Séverine Erhel. Below two hours per day, screens may have “a benefit on the regulation of emotions and on the social abilities of individuals”. But, beyond two hours, she specifies,“we see a negative influence between screen time and emotional skills or social skills”.

Screens reduce sleep quality

Conversely, can screens harm our intelligence, our concentration or our memory, Maryam wonders. A Canadian study called Madigan and published in 2020 provides some answers. The researchers observed the behavior of 2,400 children aged 2, 3 or 5. And their conclusions, explains Séverine Erhel, are that placing children in front of a screen does have a negative impact on their “cognitive development”, but this impact is “weak”. “Children’s development is rather more linked to environmental and family variables”nuance the researcher.

What is more obvious, explains Séverine Erhel, is the negative influence of screens on our sleep. According to her, there is a scientific consensus “to say that the use of screens in the evening will lead to shifts in sleep cycles”. Several studies “show that when we start looking at screens in the evening, falling asleep occurs later. And the quality of sleep will also be worse.”

A link between screens and excess weight

Séverine Erhel also advises us to “let go of the screen”at least an hour before going to bed “to let the process of falling asleep take place normally”. A recommendation that can also be found on the Ministry of Health website. It’s also best to avoid looking at a screen during meals. Several studies have shown that watching TV or your phone during a meal encourages you to eat more. Images actually alter the feeling of satiety.

And this advice does not only concern children and teenagers… Adults also have every interest in following it.

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