In the wake of the COVID pandemic, our children are facing a “generation-defining disruption” - and stratospheric increases in screen-time are significantly to blame, say experts. Now the question is, how do we press the reset button?
A wide-ranging review conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute found the combination of online learning, stay-at-home orders, and restricted outdoor activity has had serious repercussions for young people’s health and wellbeing, as they’ve grown accustomed to spending more of their lives online than off.
It’s no wonder 36% of Australian parents believe the pandemic has negatively impacted their child’s mental health, according to a Royal Children’s hospital poll.
Early in the pandemic, teens’ screen-time zoomed to an average of 7.5 hours a day. But as restrictions have eased, those new habits are proving stubbornly resistant to change.
Overall, studies show that children’s screen-time has doubled over the course of the pandemic, with steady month-by-month increases referred to as “The Covid Effect.”
And as screen-time has skyrocketed, so too have the online risks for our children. Cyberbullying, image-based abuse, and illegal and violent content, including child abuse material, have all increased dramatically in the past two years, according to research by the eSafety Commissioner.
At the start of the outbreak, many parents relaxed restrictions on device use as a way to keep their children entertained and engaged - and to get their own remote work done. Now, they’re discovering how difficult it is to turn back the tide.
The result has been a boon to tech companies - “This has been a gift to them — we’ve given them a captive audience: our children,” says Dr Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
But it is our children who will be paying the price, says Dr Christakis - in the form of anxiety, depression, obesity, aggression and addictive behaviours.
As students transition from remote learning to the classroom, back-to-school anxiety has been a prevalent - and predictable - result for many. At the extreme end of the spectrum, teens may experience separation anxiety, depression and/or panic disorder, refusing to attend school altogether.
Parents need to be alert to the red flags that can signal distress and dysregulation around online routines. For example, when young people
All of these are signs that parents need to step in quickly, before missed schoolwork and social connections snowball.
But how? If your teen’s tech use is out of control, how can you rein it in - and do it in a way that’s sensible, respectful and effective?
Creating healthy digital routines for our children in a post-COVID world is possible.
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