The smartphone is ubiquitous today. Whether it’s booking a trip, calling relatives or taking a snapshot in everyday life – you can’t do without it. But when is the right time to introduce children to the digital world? Many parents struggle with the decision of when to give their children their first cell phone. The many advantages are also offset by not entirely insignificant dangers on the Internet.

In order to get a clear answer, the French government under President Emmanuel Macron commissioned a study in recent months that is intended to clarify the question of when children should start using their own smartphone. The results are surprising: The authors of the study advocate raising children up to the age of 13 without iPhones etc. The use of social media should only be permitted from the age of 18.

An important reason for the assessment is that children need to be protected from the profit-oriented strategy of tech companies. According to the authors, children become “commodities” in this market. The corporations aimed to “capture children’s attention and use all forms of cognitive bias to lock them in front of their screens, control them, re-engage them and monetize them,” the study said. “We want [the industry] to know that we have seen what they are doing and we will not let them get away with it.”

The three-month study by scientists and experts led by neurologist Servane Mouton and Amine Benyamina, head of the Department of Psychiatry and Addictions at the Paul Brousse Hospital, goes one step further when it comes to screen use: from a scientific point of view, children should be under For three years you will not come into contact with screens at all – not even with the television. In addition, no child under the age of eleven should own a telephone. Between the ages of eleven and 13, the experts recommend one without internet access. In principle, the researchers are calling for a minimum age for smartphones with an internet connection to be set at 13 years.

Even at a slightly older age, scientists are more critical of how teenagers use social media. Adolescents aged 15 and over should only have access to “ethical” social networks such as Mastodon. According to its own statements, the X competitor is structured as a non-profit company.

According to the French researchers, teenagers should only be allowed to use profit-oriented networks such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat or Tiktok from the age of 18. Teens should also be educated about the need for enough sleep, the report said.

The study authors also suggest strong restrictions in the educational context: For children up to the age of six, screens of all kinds should only be used “to a very limited extent” and very rarely for educational content if they are accompanied by an adult. Screens should be completely banned in kindergartens. Tablets or other digital devices should therefore not be used in primary schools – with the exception of children with disabilities. “Before the age of six, no child needs a screen to develop,” Mouton explained. “In fact, screens can hinder development at this age.”

However, the scientists do not want to blame parents who are currently not so restrictive with digital media. They themselves are “victims of a powerful technology industry” that needs to be supported so that they don’t have to constantly be on their cell phones. This harms the emotional development of young people. This also includes situations in which adults are scrolling on their cell phones while feeding small children, or households in which a television is constantly running in the background.

“Technology is and remains a fantastic tool, but it must serve people and not reduce them to the operation of a product,” says Benyamina. Screens have a negative impact on children “in terms of their eyesight, metabolism, intelligence, concentration and cognitive processes.”

The dependence on screens is not due to the product itself, but to the content. “Algorithms that repeatedly activate and stimulate the pleasure system and are designed in such a way that you do not lose interest in the content have a kind of addictive dynamic.” That is why society as a whole must remain vigilant.

Sources: Study, The Guardian