Kids’ screen time doubled to eight hours-a-day since COVID-19 pandemic began, study shows

A new study reveals recreational screen time among U.S. teens doubled from pre-pandemic levels to now eight hours per day, excluding time spent on screens for schoolwork or remote learning. Researchers indicated higher screen time was also linked to negative effects. 

The study included more than 5,000 U.S. adolescents, generally 12- and 13-year-olds. “More screen time was linked to poorer mental health and greater stress among teens,” said Dr. Jason Nagata, lead researcher and assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.

He continued, “Although social media and video chat can be used to foster social connection, we found that teens reporting higher screen use felt less social support during the pandemic.” 

Nagata and his team looked into the amount of time teens spent playing games, texting, using social media, browsing the internet, video chatting, and watching or streaming videos, movies, or television shows.

Screen time did increase for all respondents, but black teens, Hispanic teens, and those teens from lower-income households had a higher screen time than others. Nagata said the disproportionate increase may be due to factors like lack of money for other activities or lack of access to safe outdoor spaces for recreation. 

Parents, Nagata warned, should be watchful over their kids’ time on the internet. “Although screen time can have important benefits for education during the pandemic, parents should try to mitigate adverse mental health risks from excessive screen time,” he commented. He also said that parents should be “role models” for their children in how they represent healthy screen time usage.

Despite the pandemic waning, Nagata does not feel that screen time will decrease in response. “As the pandemic subsides, teens will be able to transition some of their school and social activities from screens to in person. However, because of the increased availability of virtual or hybrid options, screen usage is likely to remain higher than pre-pandemic levels.” 




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