Monday, Mar 20, 2023 07:15 [IST]

Last Update: Monday, Mar 20, 2023 01:42 [IST]

A habit hard to break

Three years ago the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020, because of a rogue virus that shut down borders, forced humanity into their homes, battered economies and killed millions of people.

One of the biggest impacts was felt by the children, with educational institutions shut down and kids forced to stay indoors, continue their education online and largely stay glued to their smartphones and TVs. This led to the kids’ screen time increasing in the COVID-19 pandemic amid lockdowns and stay-at-home measures.

But even after precautions were lifted and people resumed normal activities, it remained higher, according to a new study published in February this year in JAMA Network Open. The study — led by Monique M. Hedderson, PhD, a research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research — looked at the screen usage of 228 children aged 4 years to 12 years across three U.S. states. Researchers compared screen times during three periods: pre-pandemic (July 2019 to March 2020), early pandemic (December 2020 to April 2021), and later in the pandemic (May 2021 to August 2021).

Experts are not surprised that the uptick in screen time has continued post-pandemic. Once a child forms a habit, it’s hard to break it. There are a lot of unforeseen consequences of the pandemic — and one of them includes the dependency on screen time. While screen time was already an issue prior to the pandemic with recreational use, experts say it’s even harder to limit now that kids rely on digital devices for their schoolwork.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) outlines specific guidelines for each age group on its website. For babies up to 18 months, it recommends limiting screen use to video chatting with an adult. Between 18 and 24 months, its guideline is to use screens only for educational programming. For kids between two years and five years of age, the AACAP recommends a limit of one hour per weekday and three hours on weekends for any non-educational screen time. It does not specify an hourly limit for ages six and older but does recommend encouraging healthy habits and limiting screen-based activities.

Now, after three years, the post-pandemic battle against kids' screen time has emerged big time. The biggest challenge for parents is how to limit screen time as it gets trickier for them to moderate when kids need to do homework online. Some may argue that screen time allowed for educational content and the kids using screen time to dig deep into valuable information and topics at a limited capacity is very different from watching and absorbing mindless content on the internet on a consistent basis. But regardless of what’s on the screen, excessive media use can cause a number of problems for kids.


These include trouble sleeping, a decline in academic performance, reduced physical activity, decreased social skills, headaches, eye strain and increased mood swings. In addition, there is increased social anxiety and mental health issues in children and teenagers. Numerous studies have linked excessive screen time to depressive symptoms in kids.

Increased screen time is a pandemic habit that will be very hard to break. But trying to curb it will help kids as they replace computer time with in-person social time. Experts recommend only allowing children to have access to social media or certain television channels on the weekend and limiting screen time to academic-related content during the week. However, parents should limit screen time in a way that comes across as punishment. Instead, they should encourage other activities, like going outside to play.  

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi