Studies show that children’s average screen time has increased dramatically during the pandemic. Here’s how you – Economic Times | Team Cansler

By Joanne Orlando, Researcher: Digital Literacy and Digital Wellbeing, Western Sydney University Penrith, Australia 14 November (The Conversation) Has your child’s screen time increased since COVID? If you had to estimate how much would you say, 20%, 30% or even 50% increase?

A newly released report comparing children’s screen time before and during COVID shows that children’s screen time increased by a whopping 52% between 2020 and 2022. The increases were highest in children aged 12 to 18 and in handheld devices and personal computers.

Although life is (almost) back to normal, many parents have found that their children’s technology usage is still much higher than before COVID. Your instinct may be to be tough on rules and restrictions.

However, another approach might be to create a healthier balance as a family.

Making simple habits

The full impact of the pandemic on our technology use is not yet clear, but there are factors that must be considered in understanding the current state of increased time on devices.

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A key factor leading to sustained increases in screen time is that extensive screen use becomes a habit over time.

In other words, once a person becomes accustomed to using technology for any length of time, it becomes their “baseline.” Much like how a child can get used to staying up late every night during the summer vacation and then find it difficult to adjust back to the bedtime of the school year. The longer we do it, the more adjustments are required.

During our two COVID-related years of restrictions, regulations and stay-at-home orders, many other activities have also been removed from the children’s routines. Screen time not only increased, but became the only resource the child had for school, play, communication, and everything in between. Screentime wasn’t an add-on to her day, it became the core of her day.

Another factor driving children’s increased screen time in our lives has come online since COVID. Online learning has become a permanent part of education. Online work and entertainment has become more digital.

As a result, children are using technology for longer periods of time and more intensively, and it is likely that this trend will continue to increase.

Effects on Children

Increased screen time is unlikely to have negatively impacted well-being during lockdown as it was the only way to stay socially connected. However, many worry about the impact of persistently high screen time on children.

Evidence of its effects is still patchy. One of the main reasons is that nowadays it is very difficult to separate our online and offline world.

However, there are important points to consider when considering how problematic screen time impacts mental and cognitive health, which are at the heart of learning and development for children and for us as adults.

We know there is a link between screen use and stress and anxiety. This does not necessarily mean that using the phone causes stress and anxiety. When we are stressed and anxious, we may reach for our phone to relieve it. But when that happens, the problems are not resolved and the stress remains. This can become a habit for children.

Excessive use of a screen can cause mental and physical fatigue, which affects a child’s mood and ability to concentrate and learn.

Sleep is important for learning, because when we sleep we consolidate the ideas we’ve explored that day. Little sleep means our brain doesn’t get a chance to do so, which has a negative impact on learning. A few small, limited experimental studies in the laboratory suggest that screen use may negatively affect biological clocks and sleep in adults.

However, sleep disorders are more commonly associated with the content a child engages with on a screen before bed. Hyped, highly emotional content—whether on a phone, tablet, or TV—is more likely to keep a child up at night. Reading a cute story book on her screen before bed has a different effect.

3 tips to limit as a family

Taking steps to reduce a child’s screen time seems like the most obvious parenting strategy. It’s not necessarily the best, however, as it’s often unsustainable. There are other measures that are more effective.

Like children, adults also experienced excessive screen time during COVID. Since parents’ screen use is strongly related to children’s screen use, getting back on track with our own screen time is an important role model for children. Here are three tips:

1. Do it together

A study from Denmark focused on all family members taking action together to change their screen habits, and the results were very effective. Families reported positive effects on the mental well-being and mood of all family members.

2. Prepare for challenges

Important to the success of the families in the study, they were encouraged to talk about their anticipated challenges in reducing screen usage and list possible solutions. This “in it together” approach encourages family bonding, motivation for change, and new home screen environments.

3. Direct all elements of healthy screen usage

Make sure parental guidance focuses on all three aspects of healthy device use: screen time, screen quality, and screen friends. This means keeping track of the time spent on a device, but also ensuring that a child is using technology positively in a variety of ways and in different social settings – sometimes independently, but often with others.

Technology usage has changed significantly since COVID. Managing screen time remains essential to children’s health and well-being. But how we understand screen time, its place in our lives and how we help children deal with it has to move with the times.

(Article shared by PTI via The Conversation)

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