The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many of us spending more time on our devices than usual, but when it comes to children, these trends are particularly alarming. A new study from Western University has found that elementary school-aged children are spending triple the recommended amount of time on their screens on average.
The study was co-authored by Emma Duerden, a Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience and Learning Disorders and Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, and published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports.
The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that children over the age of 5 spend no more than two hours on their screens each day. Yet with many schools forced to move online and recreational activities cancelled as a result of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that Canadian children have been spending more time on their devices than ever before.
But just how much more time are children spending on their screens, and how is this affecting them? To learn more, Duerden and colleagues surveyed Ontario-based parents of children between the ages of 6 and 12.
Parents were asked how their kids’ screen time levels had changed during the pandemic. They were also surveyed about their own stress levels, and whether or not their involvement in their children’s daily activities had changed as well.
The results of the survey showed that most children’s screen time more than doubled during the pandemic — from 2.6 to 5.9 hours per day on average. Some parents even reported that their children were spending up to 13 hours per day on their devices.
“Our findings were very surprising,” Duerden said in a press release. “It was almost three times as much as the recommended amount.”
Perhaps less surprising is the fact that children with parents who reported higher levels of stress also tended to be the ones spending the most time on their screens. Similarly, higher screen time levels were also reported by parents who had less time available to directly monitor their children as a result of the pandemic.
These results indicate a need for the government to support parents through future lockdowns or extended school closures. Many parents had to work full time while also managing childcare during the pandemic, and restricting screen time under these conditions simply wasn’t feasible.
Where possible, however, Duerden recommends that parents reduce the amount of time kids are spending on their devices.
“We don’t know the long-term effects of screen time,” she said.
“However, if [kids are] sitting down watching TV and not doing any activities, such as eating healthy food, reading or interacting with others, this may have an impact because we know these things are important for healthy brain development in children.”