Yet another victim of the pandemic...
Yet another victim of the Covid-19 pandemic: an increase in children’s screen time. With the combination of school closures and long-term stay at home orders, children have been spending more time on screens throughout this pandemic than usual. Online classes and virtual extracurriculars have resulted in children being glued to screens for exceedingly long periods of time. Even my 7 year old brother has learned how to use the internet and apps like zoom, something he otherwise would not have learned for at least a couple more years. I know I’ve definitely found myself also spending excessive amounts of time staring at screens, and I think it is time we evaluate the consequences of this.
So, what does excessive screen time have to do with mental health? Too much screen time has been found to be associated with negative health outcomes such as obesity, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance.3 This may be because increased screen time leads to inactivity (e.g. sitting) and snacking.3 According to work by Lissak (2018), increased screen time may also further exacerbate risk for depression, anxiety, suicide, and inattention among children and adolescents.3
Increased screen time has also led children to be exposed to news coverage of the pandemic. Constant exposure to the news, which, especially during the early stages of the pandemic, is filled with disturbing and discouraging stories, information, and images, can give rise to panic, anxiety, and stress.5 I, for one, recall being distraught seeing the constant news of the lives lost to the pandemic and the growing numbers of infection. According to one study, excessive television exposure following 9/11 led to increased incidences of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health disorders.4 Researchers fear that similar disorders can develop in children due to excessive use of electronic and social media.5
In addition to television and media exposure, social isolation and more time spent online, especially on social media, can increase a child's risk of sexual exploitation, cyberbullying, and exposure to inappropriate content.5 Thus, it is important to find a balance in our lives, to go out once and a while, even if it’s on a simple, quick walk, instead of being locked to the internet or our computers; it is these small changes or adjustments that can make all the difference.