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Kids’ time staring at screens doubled during pandemic

"Excessive screen use in adolescents has been associated with physical and mental health risks."

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Children's screen time doubled during the pandemic — and hasn't gone down since, according to new research.

Youngsters are spending almost eight hours a day looking at smartphones, tablets and the TV compared to less than four hours before.

The figure is discounting time spent on computers doing schoolwork, say scientists.

It includes playing video games, chatting on social media, texting, surfing the internet and watching or streaming movies and television shows.

Corresponding author Dr. Jason Nagata, of California University, San Diego, said: "Excessive screen use in adolescents has been associated with physical and mental health risks."

Children addicted to technology, kids watching screens at home absorbed in their phones
(Image via Shutterstock)

Lockdowns, online learning and social distancing have led to a reliance on digital media for nearly all facets of adolescents' lives.

The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, is the first to show an increase using data from across the United States. It was based on surveys of 5,412 participants aged 10 to 14 who self-reported their screen time both before and during the pandemic.

Dr. Nagata said: "We found the mean total daily screen use was 7.7 hours. This is higher than pre-pandemic estimates of 3.8 hours from the same cohort at baseline."

It was mostly spent on watching or streaming videos, movies or television shows and multiple or single-player gaming.

Poorer mental health and greater perceived stress were linked to higher total screen use.

Uses range from entertainment and socializing to education, said Nagata.

More social support and coping behaviors were associated with lower total screen use.

Despite the gradual reversal of quarantine restrictions, studies have suggested it may remain persistently elevated - which can be harmful.

Dr. Nagata said: "Adolescents experiencing stress and poor mental health may use screens to manage negative feelings or withdraw from stressors.

"Although some screen modalities may be used to promote social connection, higher coping behaviors and social support in this sample were associated with lower total screen usage."

The rise in children's screen time during the pandemic has triggered calls for greater interactivity and outdoor exercise.

Spending hours on smartphones and computers has been linked to an epidemic of shortsightedness and obesity in the UK and other countries.

Time spent online increased dramatically after millions of pupils were forced to switch to remote learning.

Young boy holding tablet device at night. Child kid staring at screen playing video-game online
(Image via Shutterstock)

Social media use skyrocketed, according to Qustodio, which tracks usage of tens of thousands of devices by children aged four to 15 in the UK, US and Spain.

Based on anonymous data provided by 60,000 families, website and app visits in the UK more than doubled last January compared with January 2020 - spurred by YouTube and TikTok and BBC News.

One area of concern is eyesight. A study of over 120,000 Chinese schoolchildren identified a threefold increase in the prevalence of shortsightedness among six- to eight-year-olds in 2020.

This was most likely caused by being confined to their home with schoolwork delivered online.

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