Children’s average daily screen time has increased by more than an hour and twenty minutes during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an analysis published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.
Researchers analyzed screen time and types of devices used between January 1, 2020 and March 5, 2022, drawing on data from 46 studies involving nearly 30,000 children in various countries.
The children in the studies ranged in age from 3 to 18, with an average age of 9.
Children’s average daily screen use increased 1.5 times during the pandemic, according to the analysis, from a baseline of 162 minutes per day before the pandemic to 246 minutes during the pandemic.
“These findings should be taken in conjunction with another meta-analysis that suggests a 32% decrease in participation in children who engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity during the pandemic,” the researchers wrote. “Policy-relevant pandemic recovery planning and resource allocation should therefore consider how to help children, adolescents and families ‘sit less and play more’ to meet 24-hour movement guidelines.”
The biggest increase in screen use was seen among teenagers aged 12 to 18, who were more likely than children to “own and access digital devices,” wrote the researchers, from the University of Calgary, Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Alberta, and University College Dublin.
The researchers found that the average time spent on handheld devices and personal computers increased by 44 to 46 minutes per day.
“This finding is consistent with the observation that as devices became a central part of daily life and interaction during the pandemic (for work, school, learning, socializing and recreation), 1 in 5 parents reportedly bought new devices for their children, especially computers and handheld devices. “, said the analysis.
The researchers noted that the context of screen time needed to be examined because most children switched to online school during the pandemic and screen time may have increased for educational use. Also, some of the studies in the analysis used retrospective estimates, meaning parents could have misremembered how much screen time their children had before the pandemic.
The analysis found that parents’ and caregivers’ screen time during the pandemic, as well as stress levels, were related to the duration of children’s screen use.
Ultimately, the researchers said, the increase in screen time may have been temporary for some children when schools were closed, but in other cases, “screen use may lead to persistent problem habits.”
“Professionals working with children, adolescents and families should focus on promoting healthy device habits among young people, which include moderating and controlling daily use, choosing age-appropriate programs and prioritizing device-free time with family and friends. Young people should be asked to think about how they use screens and how they can use their screen time to connect with others in a meaningful way or as a creative outlet. Additionally, it is critical to discuss balancing screen use with other important daily functions, such as sleep and physical activity,” the researchers recommended.