Should small children be banned from watching all screens?

Should small children be banned from watching all screens?

Cannes, France: Regulators and programme makers are at odds over whether small children should be banned from watching television or using tablets and smartphones.

France urges parents not to allow children under three to watch TV, and American paediatricians also favour a total ban on screen time until at least 18 months.                  Carole Bienaime-Besse, who sits on France's TV regulator, the CSA, claimed Sunday that overexposing babies and small children to digital devices has become a "public health issue".

"People are realising that screens can cause addiction even among very small children, and in extreme cases autistic problems, what is called virtual autism," she said.

"Silicon Valley also knows this. There are lots of educational apps for babies, but in the end the results are counterproductive," Bienaime-Besse told AFP.

Studies show that "children over-exposed to them are the ones who find it hardest at school," she said.

France banned its broadcasters from targetting under-threes in 2008, and blocked Fox-owned BabyTV from launching there.

But some programme makers insist that bans do not work, especially with so many parents using television and devices to "babysit" their children.

"It is admirable, but probably unrealistic" to try to keep small children away from screens, said Alice Webb, who heads the BBC's children's arm, CBBC, and the CBeebies network for pre-school children.

"Those times are long gone. Digital is everywhere. This is a tide you cannot get ahead of," she told top TV executives Sunday at the MIPJunior gathering at Cannes on the French Riviera.

That said, the British public broadcaster is so worried about the digital "wild, Wild West" children are growing up in that it is holding a global summit in December to try to put heads together on how they might be better served and protected.

"We have games and apps that are about helping children develop the cognitive skills that a two-year-old needs. This is about learning on screen and in the real world at the same time, it is not an either or and it's all about moderation," Webb argued.