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Morning exposure to screens linked to risk of language impairment in children, study finds

The results can not prove a direct cause and effect link, but establish a certain statistical link, says one of the authors of this study published by the agency Santé publique France.

Screens don't make good babysitters. Children 6 and under exposed to screens in the morning before going to school are three times more likely to develop primary language impairment, says study published Tuesday, January 14, in the Weekly epidemiological bulletin (BEH) from the public health agency France (SpF).

The study examines the use of television, game consoles, tablets, smartphones and other computers by children. If, in addition, they discuss “rarely, if ever” from what they see on these screens with their parents, these children would multiply by six their risk of developing language disorders, explain the researchers.

“It is not the time spent in front of the screens, on average twenty minutes in the morning, but the time of day that has an impact”, explains to AFP one of the researchers, Dr. Manon Collet, from the University of Rennes. “This will exhaust their attention and make them less able to learn”, she adds. The study cannot prove the direct cause and effect link, but establishes a certain statistical link, reinforced by the results of medical research already published, continues the researcher.

The study included 167 children with primary language disorders and 109 who were free from it. These are children of Ille-et-Vilaine, born between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2012 when they were aged 3 and a half to 6 and a half, age group corresponding to the period language testing. Children whose language impairment was due to pathologies or disabilities (prematurity, congenital disease, neurological, psychiatric or hearing disorders) as well as those whose parents did not speak French were excluded from the study. Among children with language impairments, 44.3% were exposed to screens in the morning before school, compared to 22.0% of those who were free.

In the past, studies have already shown that young children exposed to screens have less emotional interaction with those around them. Exchanges which are essential to their psychomotor development, in particular the development of language. In France, children's language development is assessed in school medicine at the age of 4, according to a scale validated by the Haute Autorité de santé (HAS). French studies have shown that 4 to 6% of children have primary language disorders.

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