The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed how people go about their day; a very noticeable change has been the increase in time spent on screens. This transition has been especially noticeable in children and adolescents, largely due to the increase in remote learning worldwide.
A study, published in the Journal of School Health, reviewed a collection of research conducted during the pandemic. According to the review, children and adolescents globally are spending more time on screens compared to before the pandemic.1
Experts have expressed concern regarding increased screen time; vision experts from Anglia Ruskin University have suggested that increased screen time could pose a threat to eyesight and other components of health.
Screen use has increased significantly since 2019
Researchers reviewed studies from across the world, highlighting how widespread the increase in screen time is globally.
In particular, children in Germany spend approximately one hour more daily on screens compared to pre-pandemic time.1 Similarly, children in Chile at the toddler and preschool ages are spending approximately double the time on screens compared to pre-pandemic time, resulting in a daily average of about three hours daily. In Tunisia, children aged 5-12 use screens 111% more often.
One study included in the review surveyed Canadian parents on their children’s screen use behavior. Of the parents surveyed, 89% claimed that their children were spending more than two hours daily on screens. This time surpasses the Canadian health guidelines.
But what’s so harmful about spending time on screens?
Screen time damages eyes and impacts health over time
Looking at screens, especially flipping between multiple screens (ie. laptop versus phone), can induce eye strain. When children watch television while playing on a tablet, for example, their eyes need to adjust to the different distances of each device. This switch between devices can increase eye strain by approximately 22%, according to the review.1
Dry eyes and unstable binocular vision are two other eye conditions that can result from screen use. Binocular vision is when both eyes work together to form a single image.
Researchers also noted that increased screen time can encourage sedentary behavior and may increase obesity rates in children and adolescents. Shoulder and neck strain are also a risk.
Screen time needs to be monitored
Since many children and adolescents have been forced to undergo school work online during the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers call for screen time to be regulated by schools and governments.
Professor Shahina Pardhan, lead author of the study, stated, “Schools can make sure time spent on digital devices is maximized for learning and less digital time is encouraged for other activities. Governments should work with schools to help shape home-based learning guidelines that encourage creative learning away from devices, including promoting other types of activities and frequent screen breaks.”2
Although screens have helped reduce physical contact during the pandemic, continuing this behavior may not be beneficial for the long-term health of school-aged children. Further research needs to be completed to better understand the specific health risks imposed by screen time.
- Pardhan, S. et al. (2022). Risks of Digital Screen Time and Recommendations for Mitigating Adverse Outcomes in Children and Adolescents. Journal of School Health. Doi: 10.1111/josh.13170.
- Forsyth, J. (2022). Children’s health fears due to rise in screen time. EurekAlert! Accessed Mar. 15, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/946136.
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