. However, we must be aware of the risks to their physical health as a result of this increased screen time.
Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), examined various studies carried out worldwide during the pandemic to show a consistent picture of increased digital screen time for children and adolescents.
In Canada, 89% of parents admitted their children were exceeding the two-hour daily guidelines set by the country’s health authorities. In Germany, screen time had increased by approximately an hour a day.
In Chile, a study found screen time among toddlers and pre-school children had almost doubled to more than three hours per day, while in Tunisia researchers reported an increase of 111% in total screen time for children aged 5-12.
Among the risks to eye health issues associated with the use of digital devices are eye strain, unstable binocular vision (using both eyes adequately to create a single visual image), uncorrected refractive error, and dry eyes.
They also reported that children and adolescents often use several devices at once, for example, to browse social media on their phone while watching content on another device.
Increased screen time can also lead to neck and shoulder strain, increases the amount of time spent sedentary and is also associated with overeating, potentially resulting in health issues such as obesity.
Lead author Professor Shahina Pardhan, Director of the Vision and Eye Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “It is really important to be aware of the potential risks to children’s short and long-term eye and general health. It is essential that devices are used appropriately and that activities away from digital devices are encouraged, such as playing outdoors”.
Schools can make sure time spent on digital devices is maximized for learning and less digital time is encouraged for other activities.
Governments should work with schools to help shape home-based learning guidelines that encourage creative learning away from devices, including promoting other types of activities and frequent screen breaks.
Through increasing awareness of the risks associated with high levels of digital screen use and sharing strategies to reduce the negative effects, teachers and parents should be encouraged to enhance the health and wellbeing of children and adolescents in the pandemic and beyond.