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Screen time is a top concern among parents during pandemic

Parents worry that their children are getting too much screen time and not enough physical activity during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the latest C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine. Parents’ top concerns also include unhealthy eating, depression, social media use, and internet safety.

Many children are participating in classes online and are less physically connected to their friends. At the same time, they are deprived of activities like sports. Spending more time at home during quarantine has led to major lifestyle changes for kids. 

“This is an especially challenging time for families, with many children experiencing significant changes in routine that may negatively impact their health and well-being,” said Mott pediatrician Dr. Gary Freed.

“Parents’ biggest concerns for young people seem to be associated with changes in lifestyle as a result of the pandemic. COVID-19 has turned the world of our children and teens upside down in many ways and this is reflected in how parents rate health issues in 2020.”

Dr. Freed said it’s not surprising that the top three issues on parents’ list of concerns are related to screen use. However, he explained that parents should worry less about the amount of screen time and more about how children are using the technology.

“It’s important for children and teens to maintain social and family connections that we know are critical for their emotional well-being, especially during a time when they are feeling stressed or isolated. Technology may be an important vehicle for those connections.”

Parents should still establish clear rules and boundaries about how and when electronic devices can be used to ensure that sleep is not disrupted, healthy habits are not replaced, and that the privacy of their children is protected. They should also watch for any signs of cyberbullying and other types of online abuse, which also made the top 10 list of concerns.

“Parents need to have ongoing conversations with their children and teens to guide them on safe internet practices,” said Dr. Freed.

Some of the survey respondents reported great concern over negative emotions expressed more frequently by their kids, such as stress, anxiety, or depression. These emotions may be caused or exacerbated by lifestyle changes associated with the pandemic.

“Parents may notice changes, such as increased behavioral issues in younger kids or more moodiness or lethargy from older kids and teenagers,” said Dr. Freed. He said that parents should encourage children and teens to talk about their feelings and find healthy outlets to help them cope.

Physical health may also be impacted by changes in routine and social isolation from COVID-19. For example, poor sleep habits increase the potential for unhealthy eating and less physical activity.

Families should try to maintain routines and regular sleep schedules and help teens resist the temptation to go to bed much later than usual and sleeping in later, said Dr. Freed.

The researchers also recommend scheduling “unplugged” times to spend together as a family and getting outside daily, even if it is just for a walk.

More details on the latest C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health can be found here.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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