Donner un smartphone à un enfant, est-ce comme lui donner un gramme de cocaïne ?

L’affirmation d’une spécialiste britannique des addictions a été reprise de façon littérale par plusieurs sites sensationnalistes, au risque d’une exagération mensongère.

« Offrir un smartphone à votre enfant est similaire à lui donner un gramme de cocaïne » est un avertissement très partagé sur les réseaux sociaux et sur lequel des lecteurs nous ont interpellés. Véhiculé notamment par « Santé+ magazine » – un site jugé comme non fiable dans le Décodex, car il publie régulièrement des informations déformées, voire complètement trompeuses sur la santé –, ce message anxiogène est très exagéré.Lire l’enquête : Santé+ Magazine, un site emblématique de la « mal-information » sur la santé

Ce qui est affirmé

« Je dis toujours aux gens, quand vous donnez un smartphone ou une tablette à votre enfant, c’est comme si vous lui donniez un gramme de cocaïne ou une bouteille de vin, pourriez-vous le laisser seul dans sa chambre avec de l’alcool ou de la drogue à sa disposition ? »

La personne à l’origine de cette affirmation, lors d’un colloque organisé pour des enseignants au Royaume-Uni en juin, est la fondatrice d’une clinique londonienne de traitement des addictions, Mandy Saligari. Elle revendique baser son expertise sur son expérience d’ancienne « addict », lorsqu’elle était productrice pour la télévision.

« Pourquoi accordons-nous si peu d’importance à ces choses [les smartphones et tablettes] comparativement aux drogues et à l’alcool, alors qu’ils agissent sur le même fonctionnement cérébral ? », a-t-elle ajouté.

POURQUOI C’EST TRÈS EXAGÉRÉ

Mme Saligari ne précise pas si son propos, repris de façon littérale par de nombreux sites sensationnalistes, était imagé – contactée par Le Monde, elle ne nous pas répondu. Mais elle utilise toutefois l’argument d’une réaction cérébrale similaire à l’appui de sa comparaison entre drogue et smartphone. Pourquoi cette prétendue équivalence est-elle exagérée ?

Enfants drogués : des risques d’accidents vasculaires cérébraux

La prise de drogue chez des enfants encore en croissance peut avoir des répercussions sur l’évolution de leur cerveau : « Ca perturbe le fonctionnement normal des cellules, en particulier en période de construction des connexions dans le cerveau. En cas de prise de cocaïne, il y a des zones du cerveau qui normalement ne devraient pas fonctionner qui vont fonctionner à plein, et d’autres zones, qui auraient dû se développer, qui vont rester en sommeil », explique Alain Baert, toxicologue au CHU de Rennes, interrogé par Europe 1.

Une telle intoxication peut aller jusqu’à provoquer des crises convulsives, voire des accidents vasculaires cérébraux. Des effets que n’ont pas, heureusement, les tablettes et les smartphones.

Ce que l’on sait de l’addiction aux smartphones

S’il paraît légitime de contrôler le temps passé par un enfant sur un écran et/ou sur Internet et d’aider les parents en ce sens (en janvier, deux actionnaires d’Apple ont demandé à la direction du groupe de renforcer la lutte contre l’addiction des plus jeunes à l’iPhone), la recherche est encore balbutiante quant aux effets de ces appareils sur le cerveau.

Les Décodeurs

LE CONTEXTE

47 % des moins de 3 ans utilisent des écrans interactifs (tablette, smartphone), pendant une durée médiane de 30 minutes par ­semaine, et près d’un tiers (29 %) le font seuls, selon une enquête ­réalisée en 2016 auprès des parents de 428 enfants de moins de 12 ans suivis par 144 pédiatres adhérents à l’Association française de pédiatrie ambulatoire (AFPA). Une majorité des enfants de cette tranche d’âge (70 %) regarde la télévision pendant une durée médiane de 45 minutes chaque jour.

La nomophobie, la peur de se séparer de son téléphone portable, est devenue pour certains une affection bien réelle ; de véritables centres de désintoxication ont même ouvert en Chine ou au Japon. Mais, pour la communauté scientifique internationale, l’addiction au smartphone n’est pas reconnue comme telle, ni par l’Académie de médecine (2012), ni par l’Académie des sciences (2013).

A ce jour, seule la dépendance aux jeux d’argent est inscrite dans le Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, manuel de référence des psychiatres. Ces derniers préfèrent parler de pratiques excessives.Lire le décryptage : Santé : pourquoi il est si difficile de trouver des informations fiables sur Internet

Dans une tribune au Monde, publiée en février, un collectif de professionnels du soin, de la prévention et de chercheurs appelait à ne pas céder à la démagogie, rappelant qu’une information à caractère sensationnel n’aidera pas à prévenir les risques associés aux nouvelles technologies : comparaison entre drogue et smartphone, mais aussi création de lien causal entre exposition aux écrans et autisme…

« Depuis quelque temps, des vidéos circulent sur le Net : des signes d’autisme surviendraient chez des tout-petits très exposés à la télévision (…) Ces vidéos évoquent de très nombreux enfants exposés aux écrans six à douze heures par jour (…) Or un enfant laissé de façon aussi importante devant un récepteur est de facto victime d’une carence éducative et/ou affective grave », notent les auteurs de la tribune. Ils ajoutent que, par ailleurs, aucune étude à ce jour ne permet d’établir une relation de causalité entre consommation d’écrans et autisme.

En revanche, qu’il s’agisse de tablettes, smartphones ou télévision, certains spécialistes soulignent la nécessité d’une « éducation à l’attention », selon les termes du neuroscientifique Jean-Philippe Lachaux. La Société française de pédiatrie recommande, elle, de restreindre l’usage des écrans aux espaces de vie collective et conseille aux parents de montrer l’exemple. Quant à l’école, depuis la rentrée, elle interdit par principe l’usage du téléphone portable, sauf exceptions « pour des usages pédagogiques ».

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