Is children’s smartphone use serious, doctor?


Children in Belgium get a smartphone at the age of 8 on average. However, there is no shortage of research that condemns the dangers of such practices.

Ann-Lis Dukanda, a general practitioner, specialist in health and child development, is a doctor at PMI (Maternal and Child Protection). Also a lecturer at UNESCO and a founding member of CoSE, Screen Overexposure Collective, he has been warning about the dangers of screens for children for five years. His latest book, Kids face the screen, how to protect themWhich also concerns 18-year-olds, published in 2021 by EDitions du Rocher.

Paris match. One in ten children aged 7 to 12 in St. Nicholas wants a smartphone, according to a survey by operator Mobister. And if we believe the operator base, 10% of children in primary education have a mobile phone, as opposed to 93% in secondary education. Should we worry about that?
Dr. Ann-lis Dukanda. These figures seem to me to be underestimated and there is no conflict of interest about me. Associations continue research in schools showing that 25% of elementary school students have a mobile phone It is feared that this tendency will worsen, even as parents begin to understand the scale of the problem.

Already in 2007, about 30 Flemish pediatricians signed a petition to ban mobile phone use before the age of 16. According to them, the authorities will throw parents into uncertainty about the dangers of mobile phones. However, scientific research is increasingly finding a link between mobile phone use in children and disorders of brain function. Urban legend or carefully neglected reality?
To ignore the fact, we have the right to ask ourselves questions. Indeed, it often takes years to highlight a public health problem, and the economic interests at risk cannot be denied. I am part of the CoSE group of doctors and psychologists. Along with the other fifteen associations, we have called on the French political world to ban smartphones under the age of 15. The problem is the same for both mobile phones and screens on both sides of the border. It’s even a planet! We know that the countries in Asia where smartphones are made have known this problem for a long time. They will be, in particular, China, which pressured the WHO to add a new disorder, “gaming disorder” or video game disorder, to its list of mental illnesses. Ten years ago, the scientific journal The Lancet published a study assessing the prevalence of myopia among young Asians at about 90%. And in 2016, the National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (Anses) released a report that actually noted changes in the electrical brain activity of children under the influence of radio frequencies. So it is not an urban legend.

“We must ban social networks before the age of 13 and only allow movies and video games adapted to the age of the child,” said Dr. Ann-Lis Dukanda. “And according to pediatricians, there is no smartphone before the age of 16. Frederick Sierrakowski / Isopix

A recent British study has confirmed the harmful effects of cell phones on children. He reports that the electromagnetic waves emitted by these devices can affect a child’s cognitive function – memory, attention, coordination. Many thin skull walls do not adequately resist heat radiation during brain development. What is the real risk? And what age range is affected?
First of all let’s mention that by “small” we mean children aged 0 to 6 years. Another report by ANSES confirms that these waves reduce children’s cognitive abilities. Today, 5,800 studies have shown the effects of the screen on the youngest through smartphones, tablets, televisions, game consoles and computers! Mostly has a detrimental effect, especially on young people. To fully understand them, you need to know that screens deprive children of their basic needs, such as interacting with people and exploring the real world with all their senses. Excessive exposure to the screen can lead to developmental disorders in children: language, attention span, motor skills, sleep (which deficiencies can affect development), depression and endurance. Added to this is the disorder of relationships and communication. These are not conjectures. We see it every day in our office.

In contrast, in France, ANSES pointed out a few years ago that “current data from the international literature does not allow us to conclude whether children have behavioral, auditory, developmental, reproductive or immune system or carcinogenic effects.” What do you think?
This report, published in 2016, is based on research published up to 2014. Since then, many more have come to strengthen the level of evidence, especially in the case of carcinogenicity. ANSES is in the process of updating its views on the matter According to the information I have, new reports are not expected to be published before 2023. In the Netherlands, in 2020, a report by the Health Council concluded on the potential effects of radiofrequency on blood, neurodegeneration, female fertility or behavior.

Due to the all-encompassing development of wireless technology (tablets, connected toys, WiFi, etc.), very young children (under 6 years of age) today are exposed to more and more waves very quickly – even in the womb. Would the same regulatory binding apply to all wave-emitting devices, such as telephones, especially to measure specific absorption rate (SAR), which corresponds to the amount of energy absorbed by the body? The use of 3G, 4G and soon 5G is enough to sharpen the controversy …
We know that connected devices do not emit the same amount of waves, but they do. It would seem more prudent to me to extend the same rule to all connected objects. The ANSES regulator calls for a review of exposure thresholds, as well as exposure indicators. At the same time, it recommends limiting children’s exposure to electromagnetic fields and encouraging the population to make reasonable use of mobile communication techniques. Governments must measure the scale of this disaster for public health and make quick, energetic and up-to-date decisions. On the wave and especially the 5G issue, I will recall the work of the Priartem Association created in 2020 and which is concerned with health problems caused by waves, relay antennas, link meters and all objects emitting waves in general.

“Between TikTok’s death and the declared health disaster, I don’t hesitate for a second. I recommend parents buy a cell phone with their child’s key, which allows you to not only make calls and send text messages, but above all that does not give access to the Internet. Sopa Image / Sipa

Many parents rather understand about their child’s mobile phone, perhaps fearing that it will be stigmatized, especially at school, if he does not have it. What do you think of the response from them? What limits should they set to avoid abuse?
Today’s parents were not aware of GSM when they were children and often were not aware of its dangers. When they are aware of the risks, their greatest difficulty is to limit their use by their child. Mandatory cell phone use is similar to an addiction, and children often respond aggressively – even violently – when it is taken away from them or only when its use is restricted. It should be added that when parents manage to install parental controls, children and adolescents often manage to hijack it with a few clicks. In spite of many adversities, the parents give up. They must consult and help manage their child’s mobile phone. But there are still few trained professionals. The only way to protect your kids from the dangers of smartphones is to not make them an offer until they are 16 years old.

That radical!
Yes, but it is useless to expect the child to control himself. The human brain matures only at the age of 25, and so the self-regulatory capacity is not complete until this age. And when we look at the difficulties that come with restricting the use of smartphones by adults, it is unrealistic to expect a teenager to succeed. We must set rules that we can display in the kitchen or living room, thanks to parental controls with authorized usage times and limited content. If you want your child to do something other than spend all his time on his smartphone, it is not enough to offer him other activities, because the human brain is always looking for pleasure without effort.

So is the smartphone a satanic device?
Absolutely. There is unfair competition between on-screen and real life activities. I would add that we must ban social networks before the age of 13 and only allow movies and video games that are child-friendly. And as pediatricians recommend, do not use any smartphone before the age of 16.

This week your Paris Match Belgium left this wonderful interview!

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