Young children left to watch screens in the morning are three times more likely to suffer speech or learning difficulties and often exhibit disturbed behaviour, according to French researchers.
A new study released by the French Public Health authority on Tuesday says children are likely to become agitated from watching TVs, iPads or mobiles in the morning, and tend to remain disturbed for the rest of the day.
Passive screen watching can make them more prone to hitting or scratching other children at school, according to the study by University of Rennes researchers, which looked at 276 children aged from 3.5 to 6.5 years old.
It concluded that speech or language disorders are three times more likely in children left to watch screens in the morning.
The risk is six times higher if the children do not talk with their parents about what they have watched, according to the study.
Lise Barthélemy, a child psychiatrist, said: “Screens in the morning make them over-excited for the entire day. I deal a lot with agitated children showing disturbed behaviour.”
Dr Bathélemy said exposure to screens as soon as children get up leads to “a huge increase in language, behavioural, cognitive and social difficulties”.
French health service guidelines advise parents not to allow children under three to watch screens, in line with a World Health Organization recommendation that under-threes should not watch TV or sit playing games on a tablet.
But British experts have challenged the WHO recommendation, saying there is insufficient evidence to back it up. They also argue that it fails to recognise that not all screen time is bad for children.
The Royal College of Paedriatrics and Child Health warned last year that the advice could unduly alarm families raising children in cramped housing without outdoor space to play.
In France, two-thirds of children under 3 watch TV every day and half begin watching before the age of 18 months, according to the National Institute of Health and Medical Research.
Michel Desmurget, a neuroscientist at the institute, described passive screen watching by young children as “a major public health problem”.
Dr Desmurget said: “We already know that exposure to screens, which is now reaching stratospheric levels, is conducive to language difficulties, but this study is the first to reveal the impact in the morning. Face-to-face interaction over breakfast is essential.”