France must curb child, teen use of smartphones, social media, says panel

A girl looks at a mobile phone backstage before a show during Kids Fashion Week Paris in Paris, France, February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) - France should limit smartphone and social media use for children and teenagers, an expert panel commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday, amid growing global concern about their negative impact on young minds.

Children under 11 should be barred from having a cellphone while the use of smartphones with internet access should be prohibited for anyone under 13 years old, they said in a report.

Social media apps should be forbidden for anyone under 15, they added, and minors over 15 should only have access to platforms deemed "ethical". Lawmakers would be tasked with deciding what platforms could be considered as such, they said.

Eager to boost his flagging support in opinion polls, Macron pledged in January to draft stricter legislation to curb children's screen time and social media use. His efforts reflect growing international disquiet among parents, psychologists and policymakers that new technologies may be causing more harm than good on young minds.

Last year the U.S. Surgeon General said social media could profoundly harm young people's mental health, and called on tech companies to safeguard children who are at critical stages of brain development.

The expert panel, which was led by neurologist Servane Mouton and psychiatry professor Amine Benyamina, and also included education, law and tech experts, delivered its findings to Macron on Tuesday.

There is currently no timeline for new legislation and it is unclear to what extent it would follow the experts' recommendations.

The group said any future moves should focus on tightening rules for tech companies.

"Those are the ones who are primarily responsible," Mouton told a news briefing.

The report also found that excessive screen time impacts children's sleep and is one of the drivers of child obesity, while social media can increase risks of anxiety and depression.

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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