People, Research

Study finds screen time increased for children during pandemic

October 13, 2021

Children have been spending significantly more time watching their screens during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is according to a new study published in Journal of Affective Disorders Reports from Western education professor and Canada Research Chair Emma Duerden and Western University co-authors: Diane Seguin, Elizabeth Kuenzel and J. Bruce Morton.

The study found on average children had just under six hours of screen time each day. Some children in the study were on their screens a staggering 13 hours a day.

Duerden said the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends children over five years of age spend two hours a day on their screens.

“Our findings were very surprising,” said Duerden. “It was almost three times as much as the recommended amount.”

Screen time includes, watching television, using computers, smart phones or playing video games.

Parents and children were challenged during the height of the pandemic in March and April 2020 because most in-person activities outside the home were cancelled. Schools were closed, most parents worked from home and juggled domestic responsibilities while children were going to school online. In Ontario, playgrounds were also closed, leaving children without any outdoor activities, said Duerden.

To participate in the study, parents with children between six to 12 years of age completed an online survey, which compared their screen time and daily activities before and during the pandemic. They also completed a questionnaire to determine their stress and involvement in their children’s activities.

The study also found the more parents were stressed, the more time children spent on their screens.

Duerden said parental stress depends on individual circumstances. For example, parents can be stressed because they live a small apartment or they may have financial concerns or face unemployment. Although the study didn’t look at these factors, researchers hope to find these answers as well as determine the long-term effects of excessive screen time with a new longitudinal study that’s underway. The results will be available in spring 2022.

In the meantime, Duerden encourages parents to manage their children’s electronics use, monitor what they’re watching online and plan activities that don’t use technology.

“We don’t know the long-term effects of screen time,” said Duerden. “However, if you’re sitting down watching TV and not doing any activities, such as exercising, eating healthy food, reading or interacting with others, this may have an impact because we know these things are important for healthy brain development in children.”