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How To Deal With The Excess Of Screen Time For Kids During Covid-19

Screen time has long been a topic of debate but especially the excess of screen time for kids during Covid-19

Does prolonged screen time have harmful effects on child development?  If so, how much screen time is too much?  And how do we go about neutralizing any harmful effects?

Excess Screen Time For Kids During Covid-19 Affects Development 

Studies have confirmed a negative impact on many areas of development caused by excessive screen time.  Researchers exposed various age groups to screen time beyond the recommended hours per day.  For example, more than one hour per day for 2-5 year olds. 

The developmental areas affected include motor skills, social and emotional interaction and communication and language.  However, the main influencer is how much “uninterrupted” and “unsupervised” screen time is harmful?

We have yet to see comparable studies that measure the effects of screen time beyond the recommended hours.  This includes even when it is supervised and when physical breaks are given.   It may take years to fully understand the long term effects of excess screen time for kids during Covid-19.

In an era where technology is everywhere and social distancing is the new norm, omitting screen time is not an option.  For many, school is online and therapeutic services such as speech, occupational therapy and psychotherapy are delivered via telehealth.  Attending school and behavioral services could put a child in front of the screen for eight to ten hours per day. 

Most parents are fearful of the harmful effects of excess screen time for kids during Covid-19.  As a clinical assessor, I have seen a decrease in the delivery of special needs services.  Parents are now needing to choose between school and such services.  

So, while we anxiously await a decrease in the health risks of social interactions so that public school facilities can reopen, we need to focus on what can be done now.

Excess Screen Time For Kids During Covid-19

Physical Breaks Counter Excess Screen Time For Kids During Covid-19

Let’s start with the all important physical breaks.  While there is no exact measurement of breaktime prescribed to counterbalance screen time.  Dr. Ameera Nauman (OSF HealthCare Pediatrician) recommends 15-minute breaks for every hour of screen time for teens.  Given that measurement, we can assume even greater time away from screens would be recommended for younger children. 

Now, I know that children can stay focused on a cartoon or movie for up to 90 minutes without physical breaks.  However, just because they can does not mean they should.  The negative effects on motor skills are the direct result of a lack of physical exercise.  With parents working from home, that “unsupervised” and excessive screen time for kids during Covid-19 is a real problem. 

When given regular physical breaks you increase the flow of oxygen through the body.  This means all organs have a better delivery of oxygen to them, especially the brain.  Possible activities include riding a bike, dancing and/or pulling a wagon with toys for younger children.  These activities can be done alone or with siblings and require using muscles which pumps blood around the body.  Movement has a calming effect on the brain and body. 

Social Interactions Are Limited During Covid-19

Given the social distancing restrictions within Covid-19 guidelines, social interactions have been vastly limited.  In this instance, being on devices has been the only way to socialize and means more screen time for kids during Covid-19.

Virtual play groups have been created and advertised such as, First 5 LA and Always Dancing Project.  They provide an opportunity to socialize with peers while maintaining the important physical distance.  Either joining a virtual playgroup or creating one with a few friends will be beneficial for both adults and children. 

The Genius of Play has helpful tips to get you started.

Screen Time For Kids During Covid

Longer Screen Time For Kids During Covid-19 Can Delay Language Skills

Excessive time spent on devices may hinder the development of communication and language skills.  However, with school and various therapeutic services being delivered online, children are mainly talking to others via devices.  It is important to address that Covid-19 has meant more screen time for kids.

As adults, we need to understand the loss of kids chatting with friends at school and engage with them. Simply ask your child questions during a movie or cartoon.   “Who is that?” or “What are they doing?”  

Remember that “Wh” questions and other open-ended questions ensures your child is practicing conversational skills.  This also means they are improving their language skills.

Excess Screen Time For Kids During Covid-19 Will Affect Sleep

For many, screen time is used as entertainment before bed.  However, research shows that excessive screen time and the use of technical devices directly before bedtime have a negative impact.  Not only on how easily a child falls asleep but how many hours they sleep. 

Screen Time For Kids During Covid-19

The good news is, recommendations are easy to implement and balance the excess screen time for kids during Covid-19.  For instance, turn off the TV and devices two hours before bedtime. Either your child can read or you can read to them. 

Implement a routine of relaxation stretches before bedtime.  The OT Toolbox is a great resource that was created by an occupational therapist and provides instructions and visuals of recommended stretches that caregivers can utilize with their children. The stretches are a simple combination of yoga and heavy work that helps to ground the body before bedtime. 

In Summary

We may not be able to prevent the excess use of screen time for kids during Covid-19.  But, there are resources to help neutralize the harmful effects of this enforced lifestyle. 

It is vital that we understand and address these potential shortfalls in our children’s development due to more time on devices.  By acknowledging higher screen time for kids during Covid-19 we can balance things until “normal” times return.

Resources

Association Between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test

(Sheri Madigan PhD; Dillon Browne, PhD; Camille Mori, BA; Suzanne Tough, PhD)

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2722666

https://newsroom.osfhealthcare.org/screen-time-for-kids-how-much-is-too-much

https://www.sleepfoundation.org/press-release/2014-sleep-america-poll-finds-children-sleep-better-when-parents-establish-rules

https://www.theottoolbox.com/bedtime-relaxation-stretches-for-kids/

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