More screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic has negative effects on pediatric mental health

December 30, 2021

2 min read

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Children and adolescents with more screen time had an increased risk of poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of a longitudinal cohort study conducted in Canada and published in JAMA Network Open.

“Research from our group provided evidence that stress due to social isolation was associated with deterioration of several mental health domains under COVID-19,” Xuedi Li, MSc, from Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, and colleagues wrote. “In addition to high screen use and social isolation, the deterioration of children’s mental health may be related to shifting sleep, physical exercise and other prosocial activities that were disrupted during the pandemic. Exposure to online bullying, stressful news and harmful advertising during screen use can also contribute to the mental health of poor children during the pandemic. “

Source: Adobe Stock.
Source: Adobe Stock

Investigators are investigating potential links between specific forms of screen use and symptoms of depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, irritability, hyperactivity and inattention among 2,026 children and adolescents aged 2 to 18 years in Ontario, Canada, between May 2020 and April 2021. The researchers included participants from two community cohorts and two clinically referred cohorts. Parents answered repeated questionnaires related to their children’s health behaviors and mental health symptoms during the pandemic. Children’s daily TV or digital media time, video game time, electronic learning time and video chat time served as exposure variables. Parent-reported symptoms of childhood depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, and irritability and hyperactivity / inattention according to validated standardized tools served as mental health outcomes.

The results showed that higher television or digital media time was correlated with higher levels of behavioral problems and hyperactivity / inattention among younger children (mean age 5.9 years). More time using TV or digital media correlates with higher levels of depression, anxiety, and inattention; more time to play video games correlated with higher levels of depression, irritability, inattention, and hyperactivity among older children and adolescents (mean age, 11.3 years). Li and colleagues noted higher levels of depression and anxiety among those with higher levels of electronic learning time.

“Our findings may help inform about public health guidelines that consider various forms of screen use for the prevention of mental disorders in children and adolescents during the pandemic,” the researchers wrote. “With the support of policy makers, schools and teachers, families and health professionals, children and young people will be better positioned to reduce screen use and promote mental health during and beyond the pandemic.”

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