- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Increases in screen time among children persisted more than a year into the pandemic and outlasted COVID-19 restrictions, according to a new study.

A team of 19 public health researchers published the study of 228 children aged 4-12 on Wednesday in JAMA Network Open. It found their average daily screen time increased by 1.75 hours from before the pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020) to a period of heavy public health restrictions (December 2020 to April 2021) after quarantines started.

Even after restrictions ended, screen time remained elevated by 1.11 hours a day from before the pandemic to the summer months of May to August 2021, the study found. It is the first to track the screen habits of the same group of children before and during the pandemic.

“These findings suggest that parents may need help in re-establishing healthy media use habits,” lead author Monique Hedderson, a research scientist at Kaiser Permanente, told The Washington Times. “We documented increases in all types of screen time, including recreational and educational screen time. There was also an increase in the percent of children with a social media account.”

The study did not explain why daily screen use dropped slightly among the children after restrictions eased.

“However, it is well documented that screen time decreases when children have more structured activities,” Ms. Hedderson said. “As schools reopened and recreation, sports and other organized activities returned, this may have contributed to the dip.”

The study echoes other research showing digital screens had negative impacts on young children during COVID-driven closures of schools, parks and other social outlets.

A study of the brain scans of 437 children aged 1, 18 months and 9 years old in Singapore, published Jan. 30 in JAMA Pediatrics, found an association between screen time in infancy and impaired attention and executive functioning at age 9.

Other than video chats, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 2 years old. It suggests no more than one hour a day of high-quality programming for children ages 2 to 5.

There is no prescribed limit for school-aged children, but the Mayo Clinic recommends that parents restrict social media use and gaming among school-aged children as needed.

Mental health experts say screens hit children like cocaine, releasing dopamine in the brain that leaves them depressed as the “high” decreases from each hit. Unlike the dopamine released in physical activity, it makes a child who overdoses on it feel worse over time.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

• Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@washingtontimes.com.

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