Parents - your kids are spending more hours on screens than ever. Should you be concerned?

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, governments are enforcing strict lockdown measures, causing shutdowns in workplaces, businesses, and educational institutions. It resulted in millions of American parents working from home, and tens of millions of students participating in distance learning. This means additional screen time for children and teenagers on top of their usual screen time on a normal day.

Since schools are shifting to online classes, students are having more reasons to lock in their eyes in front of their devices for a longer period of time. More so, some parents are giving a free pass on their kids to use their devices as a quick fix to cabin fever, or for some peace and quiet time for parents to do their remote work.

According to a survey involving 3,000 parents, the kids’ screen time skyrocketed by 500% during the height of the pandemic. Before COVID, only 8% of the respondents’ kids were said to spend at least six hours a day online. But during COVID, this increased to 49%, primarily because of entertainment and media platforms like Netflix and Tiktok. Should parents and guardians be alarmed with this data?

Screen Time Guidelines

The World Health Organization (WHO) set a daily screen time guideline for children early last year. According to WHO, infants aged one-year-old and less should not have any screen time at all. Moreover, those aged from two to four years old should not exceed one hour of sedentary screen time. The WHO did not release a recommendation for older children and young adults, but there are studies that correlate mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression, with prolonged and excessive screen time in teenagers.

Ironically, children and teenagers have been spending more time than the prescribed hours prior to the pandemic, and years before this health crisis. According to Common Sense Media, Americans aged two to four years old spend an average of 2.5 hours per day. While those aged five to eight years old use their digital devices for nearly 3 hours each day.

Behavioral and Health Risks with Too Much Screen Time

The problem with excessive screen time is that it discounts the healthy behavior that children should develop at a young age. Instead of being physically active, developing their social and cognitive skills, or resting for their health and wellbeing, these children are interacting with their screens passively.

In a report released by the Vision Council, 30 percent of the surveyed parents said that their children experienced headaches, eye strain, shoulder pains, and reduced attention span after using digital devices for at least two hours. These symptoms can potentially lead to poor academic performance or social interaction.

Are Digital Devices the Enemy?

As educational institutions shift to distance learning in these trying times, digital devices should not be perceived as the enemy. In fact, these tools ensure that learning never stops. The real culprits here are sedentary lifestyle, social isolation, and learning distractions that adults face too. While it is true that these problems can be attributed to excessive screen time, there are ways on how we can get around them.

Parents and guardians can support the social and cognitive development of children by advocating healthy and imaginative behaviors -- regardless if these are with the help of digital devices or not.