Post Mortem

Children and Screen Time Effect: A Pandemic Concern

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 9/17/2020 1:02:08 PM IST

 A few parents comment that their children have become busier with the online classes than during the pre-pandemic when children used to attend physical classrooms. Their screen time has drastically increased during the Covid-19 lockdown with classes and recreations going digital particularly in the urban setting. There is increase in cases that children are easily agitated, angry, and moody; occasional argument with family members, shoulder pain complains, headache and mild fever; mentally drained and difficulty in concentration; showing moderate-severe anxiety; lack of sleep and exhaustion, fidgeting and restlessness. These are signs of screen use related stress and anxiety.

A study on screen time which includes television, computers, smartphones, video games, and tablets reveals that higher screen time results in poor quality sleep. This in turn, has adverse effect on the behavioural health (Justin, 2016). Moreover, the sedentary lifestyle of children infront of the screen leads to the following symptoms such as “overweight and obesity, alterations in blood glucose and cholesterol, poor school performance, decreases social interactions, and lower levels of physical activities.” What is worrisome is that the health adverse impact may continue even into adulthood (Lecena, 2015). Furthermore, Stiglic and Viner (2019) did a study on children between 0-18 years and conclude that excessive screen use is associated with irritability, low mood and disturbs cognitive and socio-emotional development of a child. This in turn leads to poor educational performance.

How much is too much?

An online survey was conducted in 2013 on 2034 Australian adults to understand the screen time limit. This survey was restricted to watching Television and using Computer only. 68% of the respondents said children should not be exposed to 2 hours a day of screen time during school working days. These adult respondents mentioned that their leisure-related screen use increases by about 2 hours per day in the weekends. The same study also reveals that adults’ screen use can influence the children’s screen time. Adults who uses screen less than 2 hours a day would want their children to set screen limits to less than 2 hours (Schoeppe, et al., 2016).

Cassidy-Bushrow (2014), did a comparative study between the time spent on internet and adolescent blood pressure and concludes, “2 hours a day, 5 days a week”’ as a standard of measurement for all internet-related use. According to this study, there is a screen holiday of 2 days in a week. Using internet less than 2 hours a day and 4 days a week is considered light use. Whereas, using internet for 2 or more hours a day for full week is considered heavy use. We also see a slight variation between aggressive internet game play and non-game internet use. 

The American Medical Association marks that playing internet game for 2 or more hours a day is already considered heavy user [Clinton & Scalise, 2013]. The reason is because internet games are much aggressive in nature as compared to using screen for online classes or social media chat such as Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. 

From the above presentations, we can see that whether it is online or offline screen use, exposure to more than 2 hours a day for full week is considered heavy use. Keeping this benchmark in perspective, the following data drawn from the contextual case study on the students’ online class during this Covid-19 lockdown period will raise several questions for extensive and comprehensive research.

Lockdown Screen Time: A Case Study

The screen time of 3 students were observed for ten consecutive days from 2-11 September 2020 during this lockdown period in relation to their online/digital classes. The individual screen time is extracted from the Digital Wellbeing Tool of their personal smartphones. The data indicates that a student is on the screen in an average of 5 to 7 hours doing school-related activities. Sometimes, the students are on the screen for about 10-11 hours doing school-related work. The chart is given below:

Name Average Screen Time per day (in hour) Minimum Screen time (in hour) Maximum screen time (in hour)

Student 1 5:15 hrs 1:24 hrs 9:46 hrs

Student 2 5:24 hrs 2:31 hrs 8:54 hrs

Student 3 7:15 hrs 2:20 hrs 11:09 hrs

This observation does not include screen time of TV, Computer, and Tablet which are used for non-study recreational purpose. In the case of Student 1 and Student 2, their respective smartphones are specifically used for study purpose during this lockdown, and the handset is not shared with other siblings for the same purpose. For Student 3, the Smartphone is a single-user and is occasionally used for other recreational social media activities. Student 3 also uses iPad as an alternative gadget for study purposes.The screen use for online and mobile game related activities, and the type of games played is not included in this study because it is a completely different subject matter.
The above case study shows that children are exposed to digital screens, not double, but 3-4 times or more than the recommended safe limit during this Covid-19 pandemic. And this digital class phenomena has been going on now for about 5 months since the beginning of Lockdown, where there is unparalleled imbalance between physical and mental activities for the children.
Some children are already getting lethargic to doing assignments through smartphones. While some are displaying signs of getting habituated, rather becoming dependent on the screen. Such children are finding difficult to detach from any form of screen-based gadget. One child uses the word “Jobless” to express the feeling when the person was asked to switchoff all screen-based gadgets such as personal smartphone, TV, and computer. Some children are showing lack of concentration and diminishing quality time for their study-related works.
Way forward:
1. Standard Guideline for Digital School Work: The Government through its concerned Departments may bring out a Uniform Standard Guideline on taking online classes, sending assignments and conducting lectures through various digital platforms. We cannot leave this matter to individual schools alone nor be limited to Government Schools versus Private Schools or Urban-based schools versus Rural-based school. The issue is not simply about when the school should re-open. A pin-pointed, objective-specific policy related to conducting online classes and tests, tailoring out the primary and secondary subjects and lessons, percentage to be covered for completing academic requirements, etc. will allow concerned subject teachers to perform precise objective-oriented online classes and lessen the children from screen use.
2. Lifestyle Change: The subject on excessive screen use is a complex matter. The intervention programs are still at an experimental stage. Thus, the only way to help our children from excessive Screen Use Syndrome is to take preventive measures. This can be done by undergoing certain lifestyle change by tightening up family rules, values and expectations. The lifestyle change related to screen use must take top-bottom hierarchical process, meaning it must begin from the parents. 
3. Family-Based Approach: Due to the multi-dimensional nature of the problem related to Excessive Screen Use, it is insufficient to focus on the concerned child alone for cognitive-behavioural change. The whole family members must get involve and journey together in the therapeutic process to bring change.
4. Screen Holiday: The best way to beat screen related stress, anxiety and behavioural change is to isolate oneself from screen use. At regular interval of time, power-off all screen related gadgets such as smartphones, TV, Computers, etc. for certain period of time. Replace your child’s activities with the conventional method of reading printed-bound books, play or do household chores.
The screen related stress and anxiety is already showing on our children. Therefore, the issue on screen-based behavioural change must be taken as community challenge. We cannot leave it as a personal choice anymore especially to our children. Neither should it be considered as an individual family matter nor a child’s problem alone. Loss in quality life will hugely impact our economy, skilled-based professions, and a generation suffering from various forms of mental disorders and physical ailments.
Rev. Dr. Vetso Koza and Kariu Kamei Koza, Centre for Integrated 
Counselling Services (CICS)

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