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How Will Your Child’s Screen Time Be Affected by COVID-19?

Will increased online time hurt or help your child?

This post was co-authored by Maggie Kimberl.

With the global pandemic driving workers, students, and everyone else to their computer screens, is this increased time online hurting or helping?

Since the pandemic began earlier this year, parents report that kids are spending 66 percent more time on screens than they did before the pandemic. Most of this increase is due to online schooling, but some of it is because kids are spending more time gaming and engaging in other online activities because so many things have been canceled.

Forty-nine percent of kids spend six hours or more a day using screens, and that’s a 500 percent increase from last year. Perhaps one of the scariest things for many parents is that 30 percent of those kids spend four or more hours a day online completely unsupervised. What’s more, online schooling is required, with parents being charged with neglect if their kids don’t log in online for school, so kids are even more online than ever before.

Parents are particularly concerned because we've always heard that too much screen time is bad. But the latest research shows that quality is much more important than quantity, so remote school on a computer is probably not on the same level as online gaming or even binge-watching TV shows on Netflix. As it turns out, just 34 percent of kids are using computers more because of the pandemic. Between 2015 and 2019, homework on computers doubled, and more kids than ever are using computers during routine classwork.

It’s too early to know definitively how this additional online activity is affecting kids, but the good news is that all that screen time may not be as bad as you think. While excess screen time has been shown to cause developmental delays and poor social skills as well as an increase in depression, not all screen time is created equal.

When are online activities “good,” and when are they “bad”?

For young kids, watching television alone for hours on end is not good, but watching television with family members and discussing what is happening makes screen time more active. It’s all about active participation. Passively watching TV shows isn’t a good use of time, but actively watching a learning program or watching videos as part of an online school program and then discussing the content with teachers and other students is active participation and beneficial.

Similarly, watching a video for instructions on how to do something and using video chat to connect with friends and family are examples of how to use screens in a positive and constructive way. Online learning obviously also falls under this category.

Extended hours of online gaming, watching random videos, and endless social media meanderings are all examples of the less beneficial form of screen time, and it's those things that need to be regulated and limited.

In order to prioritize high-quality screen time over low-quality screen time, ensure that kids are spending the majority of their screen time on school, interacting with friends, and doing activities that require learning and input. Set limits as best you can and try to keep screens out of bedrooms.

As PT blogger and author, Anthony Silard, suggests in his new book, Screened In, it’s all about finding a balance and taking time to disconnect from screens and spend quality time, face-to-face, with family members and in non-electronic activities.

Maggie has created an infographic that provides additional information.

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