Not All Screen Times are Equal

By Indira Purushothaman

Remote learning is becoming the new normal. Across the country, students of all ages are attending virtual classes hosted by their teachers or professors. As a result, the amount of screen time for anyone with access to electronic devices in a day has significantly risen, especially in children and young adults. For many, due to the pandemic, socializing screen time and educational screen time all occur under the “Zoom” umbrella. It’s one Zoom call after another. The unfortunate reality is that people are also stuck at home during their free time as well, and as a result, children and young adults have spent more time on YouTube, TikTok, TV and online streaming as methods to safely pass time. This passive screen time, has had more drastic and deteriorating outcomes in scholastic achievement and overall health.

Photo Credit: Pikist

Prior to COVID-19, excessive amounts of screen time for educational purposes were unheard off. Students were often found to passively be scrolling through social media rather than attending an online class. With the new reality of COVID-19 and the demands of online education, educational screen time is seeing a steady rise and could result in more health detriments such as weight gain and eye problems compared to scholastic achievements.

Student engagement has often been a challenge for faculty but seeking engagement through remote learning has been an astronomical task to many. The pandemic affects all 3 elements of the human state: physical, emotional, and mental. The inability for people to create a routine under these circumstances elevates the resting stress levels. Gail Saltz, an associate professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical College states “Chronic stress increases resting stress levels and can definitely cause you to stay awake much longer at night.” Dr. Saltz hosts a weekly podcast to discuss these matters. On the podcast she explains that the amount of time we have to sleep makes no difference when the quality of sleep is later affected by chronic stress levels.

In an  NIH study, Trinh MH et al.  recently suggested that high amounts of screen time begin as early as infancy. The reality is that children in home-based childcare will utilize the most amount of screen time. In the evolving times of COVID-19, an increase in the number of screens per household is a direct result of the increase in screen time. COVID-19 has created a sense of normalcy with increased screen time for everyone, not just children and young adults. Trinh also suggests that screen habits begin as early as infancy, and it is usually the external factors that cause children to be distracted by, and stay addicted to the screen. With COVID placing restrictions on recreation, social engagements and other opportunities to put the screens away, screen time is playing a major role in addiction, restlessness, and generalized fatigue.

Years ago, educational screen time was appreciated and encouraged to stimulate development and behavioral milestones. However, through the pandemic, the concept of healthy screen time is a challenge of distance learning. Not all screen time is the same, and in times like this, staying sane occurs when you take a break from your screens. In a study from 2019, educational screen time was linked to scholastic achievement with no health-related side effects, however, passive screen time was linked to health ailments such as weight gain and poorer scholastic achievement. However, this specific study took place prior to the pandemic, and the pandemic has caused a rise in educational, passive, and even social screen time. As a result, many wonder if there will be new guidelines in place for regulating screen times for the physical and mental health of its users.

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