Kids’ screen time up significantly during pandemic

Child playing on a tablet. File photo courtesy of © Can Stock Photo/racorn

It likely won’t come as a shock to parents, but kids’ daily screen time throughout the pandemic has jumped to nearly triple the recommended amount.

A study led by Western University researchers has found children aged six to 12 spent an average of nearly six hours a day staring at computers, cellphones, video games, and TV screens. For some kids, daily screen time soared as high as 13 hours.

“Our findings were very surprising,” said Western education professor and Canada Research Chair Emma Duerden, who co-authored the study with three other researchers. “It was almost three times as much as the recommended amount.”

The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends kids over five be limited to just two hours of screen time a day.

For the study, parents of young kids were asked to complete an online survey that compared their child’s screen time and daily activities before the COVID-19 crisis hit and during the thick of it when lockdowns were in place. They were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about their stress levels and involvement in their children’s activities.

Researchers determined that the more parents were stressed, the more time their children spent on screens. All that extra screen time could negatively affect the children going forward, Duerden warned.

“We don’t know the long-term effects of screen time,” said Duerden. “However, if (kids are) sitting down watching TV and not doing any activities, such as exercising, 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.”

Duerden and the other researchers are examining the long-term effects of excessive screen time in a new study. The results of which are expected to be released next spring. In the meanwhile, she stressed parents need to manage their children’s use of electronics and plan daily activities that don’t include the use of technology.

The study on children’s screen time during the pandemic was recently published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports.