When the COVID-19 pandemic began, technology quickly became an essential part of life. Apple iPads that were previously a special treat for kids suddenly became the only tool to keep kids quiet while parents work from home. Laptops that were once for watching the occasional movie and writing essays for school became lifelines for work, school and communicating with friends.
Now that we are approaching a year since the start of the pandemic, parents and specialists are worried about the detrimental effects massive amounts of screen time will have on people going forward.
The video conferencing platform Zoom quickly became a household name as parents and students began working and attending school from home. We originally expected our digital reality to be a short-term solution.
It is no small feat that we were able to continue with our lives safely in isolation. Technology was and is absolutely necessary in order to continue keeping people safe. However, our use of screens and technology needs to be better managed.
Many find it difficult to limit screen time as it is now essential. In an article for The New York Times, pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky gave advice on how to manage screen time.
“There is no science behind this right now. If you are looking for specific time limits, then I would say: Don’t be on it all day.” Radesky said.
There is an undeniable sequence of screens I and many others cycle through on a daily basis, which involves waking up and checking a small screen, going to work or school on a medium-sized screen and watching a TV show on a big screen while eating dinner.
This routine can be addicting, but it feels like the only way to spend our days while still in isolation. It is important to make time for activities away from screens.
These activities can range from cooking a meal or reading with people in your household, to going on walks around the neighborhood. Crafting or playing board games can also be good alternatives to constant on-screen media.
These activities do not have to be dramatic or forced. A quick break can make a difference and mitigate what some call Zoom fatigue.
At ten months into the pandemic, parents are starting to worry about the negative effects increased screen time will have on their children.
Screen time limits were an issue even before the pandemic began. Multiple studies, published before COVID-19 was even a thought in our minds, warned of the effects too much screen time could have on people, especially children.
Before the pandemic was in full-swing, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s guidelines for children and adolescents recommended as little screen time as possible for children.
In a 2010 study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found a correlation between children watching TV and playing video games and those children developing attention problems. The study found the same to be true for late adolescents and young adults.
A newer study done in 2019 found the same results for preschoolers. This research article, published in scientific journal PLOS One, found children engaging in just 1.4 hours of screen time a day also showed attention problems. Children who consumed more than two hours of screen time a day were more likely to show symptoms congruent with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD.
As both studies were conducted before our entire lives became tied to our screens, it is hard to imagine what the numbers look like now.
Another prominent concern regarding the surge of screen use is the increased risk of myopia, or nearsightedness.
A 2010 study published by Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection found a correlation between increased screen time and decreased time spent outside and a progression of myopia. The study also predicted more negative impacts on children’s development stemming from an adoption and dependence on screens in home and work environments.
Technology is both a blessing and a curse. It has helped most of us drag our way through the pandemic thus far. Without screen time, who knows where we would be in terms of school, work and isolation.
Had I not been able to use Zoom for my classes and access my work files via a VPN and server, I likely would have had to take a year off from school. Still, it is important to recognize the detriments of constant screen consumption.
So, while I know there are dozens of emails in your inbox waiting for responses, and I am sure your mom would appreciate a video call, take some time today to get away from the screen. Go for a walk, read a book, learn how to knit or cook an overly-fancy dinner for no reason at all. Most importantly, do not let a screen rule your life.