Children’s screen time nearly doubled during the pandemic

The teens said they spent nearly eight hours a day in front of a screen, double their pre-pandemic estimates of nearly four hours a day, according to a study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

Children’s screen time did not include time spent online for virtual lessons. The study focused on recreational activities such as streaming, gaming, social media, texting, video chatting, and web browsing.

Teens who reported spending more time in front of a screen also reported suffering in other areas of their lives, said lead author of the study, Dr Jason Nagata, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California to San Francisco.

“More screen time has been linked to poorer mental health and greater stress in teens,” Nagata said.

Some 5,412 adolescents aged 10 to 14 were asked about their screen use habits. The researchers found that children spent an average of 7.7 hours per day in front of a screen, compared to 3.8 hours per day estimated before the pandemic.

Participants were asked to rate their mental health from “much worse” to “much better” compared to the previous week. They were also asked four questions about their perceived stress, such as “In the past month, how many times have you felt that the difficulties were piling up so high that you couldn’t get over them?”

The link between higher screen usage and stress was surprising, said Dr. Jenny Radesky, a behavioral development pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Michigan Medicine CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, who did not attend. in the study.

“Most families were hoping that connecting with friends through games or social media, or relaxing while watching videos, would be a stress reliever during the pandemic,” she said.

The negative correlation could be due to “doomscrolling,” Radesky said. This is when people parade on social media watching negative news for long periods of time. Longer hours spent in front of a screen could also have given children less time to participate in activities that “help support resilience during difficult times, including sleep, mindfulness or physical activity,” he said. she added.

Conversely, participants who reported spending less time in front of a screen were found to have stronger family and friendships and more coping behaviors.

The adolescents were asked about the quality of their family and friendships. They also received a list of nine coping behaviors such as exercise and meditation and asked them to share their participation in each activity.

Set screen time limits

As the pandemic eases, longer screen times won’t go away anytime soon, Nagata predicted.

Academic and social activities are once again starting to flow in person, but the increased availability of online options means that “screen usage is likely to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels,” he said. he declares.

Nagata recommended that adults set screen time limits for their children and encourage them to avoid screens before bed.

Model behavior without a device

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“Parents should also lead by example by putting their devices away during family time and meals, and not frequently interrupting their interactions with their children to take care of their devices,” said Michael Robb, senior manager of research at Common Sense Media, which was not involved in the study.

Many online videos and games are designed with features to entice the user and keep them coming back every day, such as autoplay and notifications, Radesky said. Adults can play alongside their children to determine what specific features are being used so they can turn them off, she said.

Rather than counting the minutes kids spend in front of screens, adults should make sure their kids get the chores they need to enjoy homework and chores, Robb recommended. Once these are counted, focus on managing the time spent in front of the screen.

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