COVID-19 Resource Center

COVID-19 Resource Center

Disclosures: Li reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
December 30, 2021
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More screen time during COVID-19 pandemic has negative effects on pediatric mental health

Disclosures: Li reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.
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Children and youth with more screen time had increased risk for poor mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to results of a longitudinal cohort study conducted in Canada and published in JAMA Network Open.

“Research by our group provided evidence that stress due to social isolation was associated with deterioration in multiple mental health domains during COVID-19,” Xuedi Li, MSc, of the Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, and colleagues wrote. “In addition to high screen use and social isolation, the worsening of child mental health could be related to the displacement of sleep, physical exercise and other prosocial activities, which were disrupted during the pandemic. The exposure to online bullying, stressful news and harmful advertisements during screen use could also contribute to poor child mental health during the pandemic.”

Source: Adobe Stock.
Source: Adobe Stock

The investigators examine potential associations between specific forms of screen use and symptoms of depression, anxiety, conduct problems, irritability, hyperactivity and inattention among 2,026 children and youth 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 television or digital media time, video game time, electronic learning time and video chatting time served as the exposure variables. Parent-reported symptoms of child depression, anxiety, conduct problems and irritability, and hyperactivity/inattention according to validated standardized tools served as the mental health outcomes.

Results showed higher television or digital media time correlated with higher levels of conduct problems and hyperactivity/inattention among younger children (mean age, 5.9 years). More time using television or digital media correlated with higher levels of depression, anxiety and inattention; more time playing video games correlated with higher levels of depression, irritability, inattention and hyperactivity among older children and youth (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 public health guidelines that consider different forms of screen use in prevention of mental health disorders in children and youth during the pandemic,” the researchers wrote. “With supports from policy makers, schools and teachers, families, and health care professionals, children and youth will be better positioned to reduce screen use and promote mental health during the pandemic and beyond.”