Repeated confinements, distance school, telework… The health crisis linked to Covid-19 has greatly modified the digital practices of families, as revealed by a study carried out by Ipsos for the National Union of Family Associations (Unaf) and the Observatory of parenthood and digital education (Open) published Monday, February 7 (1).
First observation: 44% of parents and 53% of children say they have increased their screen consumption since the start of the pandemic. And 77% of parents and 62% of children believe they spend too much time there. “The increase in digital practices in terms of screen use, time spent, and with a majority of parents who think that all this will last over time is one of the major pieces of information”underlines Olivier Andrieu-Gérard, head of the digital media use unit at Unaf.
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Other information, screens are used by younger and younger children. The average age of children when they receive their first digital device (10.5 years old today) is decreasing. Worryingly for the authors of the study, 43% of children aged 0 to 2 use the Internet. For Olivier Andrieu-Gérard, this is partly explained by the “occupational dimension”. “The screen becomes the babysitter”, adds Thomas Rohmer, founder and director of the Open. Thus, 83% of parents are convinced of the opportunities offered by digital technology to easily entertain the little ones.
Second finding of the study: the gap between parents’ perception of what their children do online and what they say they do. Parents thus underestimate the time spent on their screens by 23% over an average week. For example, 7-10 year olds spend almost three times more time on their smartphone than their parents imagine (37 minutes a day compared to 1 hour 26 minutes). “That’s the main issue.points out Olivier Andrieu-Gérard. Parents do not always know and do not imagine the digital use of their children”.
This generational gap may also explain the difference in the perception of risks and concerns related to screens.“Parents prioritize the risks that are the most conveyed, such as cyberbullying (5% of children say they have suffered from it). The children prefer to talk about what they are going through (headaches for 43% of them, difficulty falling asleep, etc.). This is due to a lack of dialogue in these families”explains Thomas Rohmer.
A poor perception of the risks can lead to an inappropriate response. Thus, barely 4 out of 10 parents declare having an exchange with the child on his digital practices. Conversely, the installation of spyware has doubled since 2019. Parents prefer to regulate digital practices by focusing on the control of tools to the detriment of the educational angle. A challenge, according to Olivier Andrieu-Gérard, for whom to use the technique without understanding ” no use “.
Lack of support
Finally, the study affirms that nearly one parent in two does not feel sufficiently supported to regulate their children’s screen consumption. “You have to take an interest in them, be present, accompany them, try to understand what they are doing with their tools, ask for explanations”advises Olivier Andrieu-Gérard.
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Resuming dialogue is also essential for Thomas Rohmer, who recommends finding the right balance by respecting the precautionary principle. “We know that before the age of three, screens are harmful and should not be put in the hands of children. But past this age, you have to be pragmatic and not want to throw the smartphone in the trash”he explains.
“Concretely, rather than putting the cartoon ‘Peppa Pig’ to their child in the morning to occupy them, I advise parents to let them listen to music and nursery rhymes on a smartphone. The child has the screen but not the image, it develops his imagination and it occupies him just as much »indicates Thomas Rohmer who wishes to show that a “a digital lifestyle is possible”.