Nov. 14, 2022 -- The average amount of time children spent staring at screens during the COVID-19 pandemic rose 52%, a new study says.
The increase amounts to an average of 84 more minutes per day looking at televisions, computers, and phones. That’s a jump from the pre-pandemic baseline of 162 minutes per day to 246 minutes during the pandemic, said the study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
The findings were based on data from 46 studies conducted in nations around the world. The screen habits of about 30,000 children aged 3 to 18 were studied between Jan. 1, 2020, and March 5, 2022. The biggest increase was reported in children 12-18 because they were more likely to have their own devices, the study said.
Online education did account for some of the increase, the researchers said. Also, youths relied on phones and other devices to remain in touch with friends when face-to-face interactions were discouraged because of COVID.
The researchers from the University of Calgary, Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, and University College Dublin, said their findings should be considered in relation to other studies that found children’s physical activity dropped during the pandemic.
“These findings should be considered along with another meta-analysis suggesting a 32% decrease in children’s engagement in moderate to vigorous physical activity during the pandemic,” they wrote. “Policy-relevant pandemic recovery planning and resource allocation should therefore consider how to help children, adolescents, and families to ‘sit less and play more’ to meet the 24-hour movement guidelines.”
The study concludes that the increase in screen time may lead to sustained problems and require “recovery initiatives” to promote healthy device habits, such as “moderating daily use, monitoring content, and promoting the use of screens as a creative outlet and to meaningfully connect with others.”
One limitation of the study was that no samples came from South Africa and only limited samples came from South America and the Middle East, meaning the “findings may be relevant only to specific geographic regions of the world.”
The study echoes previous research. A study published about a year ago in JAMA Pediatrics said that recreational screen time among U.S. teenagers doubled from before the pandemic to nearly eight hours per day during the pandemic.