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Healthbeat: Effects of extra screen time during pandemic

KINGSTON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — A major fallout of the pandemic for children and teenagers is spending less time socializing in person, and more time on smartphones, computers and other screens. While that screen time has become a major virtual lifeline, it brings with it some serious concerns.

A recent study shows children’s screen time has increased 50% since the pandemic started. But the screen concerns extend well beyond how much time kids are on their digital devices.

Sherry Howell of Mocanaqua cannot help but notice a pattern of behavior with her teenage son during the pandemic.

“He’s in his room a lot on his multiple electronic devices and I worry about social isolation. That’s a big thing,” said Sherry Howell.

“I agree that my social skills took a deep dive, but I wasn’t very social before,” said David Howell, student.

Lack of socializing can stunt a child’s emotional development. Too much screen time has often been to blame, that is, until the pandemic.

“So we have to look at screen time through a different lens,” said Jeffery Kile, MD, pediatrician at PAK Pediatrics.

Dr. Kile says the problem is not so much the increased screen time during this pandemic but more so the quality of it.

“Are they doing programming that is enriching on the computer? And that’s really important to understand. And are they still using the screen to socialize with their peers? Because as we know now, in the pandemic, that has totally been taken away from many children the ability to connect.”

Dr. Kile urges parents to be vigilant about what their children are doing digitally.

“Asking them, 'so what are you doing on the screen?' Or if they are playing video games to sort of, maybe play along with them. Or ask them exactly what they are doing, so that there is some sort of engagement between the parent and the child there. And they have a mutual understanding about each other, and it helps them to connect, also.”

When it’s time to return to normalcy and reduce screen time, he says parents should brace themselves for their child’s withdrawal.

“They say habits can take 60 to 90 days to galvanize for a person. We are well beyond 60 to 90 days. We are almost a year into the pandemic of doing the same sort of routines and using more screens.”

Going through the digital withdrawal may take some time.

For more information and resources you can visit www.aap.org, healthychildren.org.