Pandemic linked to significant jump in screen time for kids
Whether it was playing video games, doing homework or watching television, research out of Western University in London, Ont. found children were spending a lot of time in front of screens during the height of the pandemic restrictions.
“It went from just over two hours a day to almost six hours a day. Some parents reported their children were on screens for 13 hours a day,” said Emma Duerden, an assistant professor in Western’s Faculty of Education and a Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience and Learning Disorders.
Duerden and a research team that included members of Western’s Brain and Mind Institute (Diane Seguin, Elizabeth Kuenzel and J. Bruce Morton) conducted an online survey directed at parents with children ages six to 12.
The team was trying to evaluate how parents and children were faring during the restrictions, but the screen time numbers stood out.
"It's recommended [by the Canadian Paediatric Society] that for children over the age of five, that they have about two hours of screen time a day. So when we're seeing almost triple that amount a day, with some children really surpassing that, it becomes quite worrying," Duerden said.
The research was conducted at a time when schools were closed, playgrounds were taped off and socializing was limited. Parents were also facing their own workplace challenges.
"We don't know about the long-term effects of screen time on children's brain development and behaviour,” explains Duerden. “We do know that when we're sitting down and watching screens we're not doing other things that are very healthy for brain development. Things like exercising, reading, socializing with others."
One of the key questions is whether the screen time behaviours will stay with children beyond the pandemic. The Western team started that research in November of last year and it's ongoing, but early indicators show higher screen times are persisting.
"We're not seeing any changes in terms of decreases in screen time. So it's still high and it's staying high."
Duerden encourages parents to use the three M’s — ensure moderate use of electronics, monitor what children and seeing, and make screen time count by emphasizing educational opportunities.
She also says parents should pay close attention to changes in mood and behaviour during and after children have had screen time.