Screen Time Correlates to Record Highs of Depression and Anxiety in Children

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Screen Time Correlates to Record Highs of Depression and Anxiety in Children

By Movieguide® Contributor

A new study from Canadian researchers found that extended screen time among school-aged children places them at a higher risk for developing anxiety and depression. 

The study was conducted over 2021 and 2020 as screen times jumped drastically across the world. In Canada, the average screen usage among children rose from 2.6 hours pre-COVID to 5.9 hours during the initial weeks of the lockdown. The United States saw a similar trend. By the time the study was conducted, the average screen time of children hovered around 4 hours across the year-long research period; roughly double the 2-hour max recommended by most healthcare professionals. 

Previous studies had found that high levels of screen time were correlated with impaired social skills, behavioral issues, and fatigue among children. This study continued the research into the effect that high exposure to screens has on children. It was especially interested in the correlation between screen time and depression and anxiety as these have skyrocketed in school-aged children since the pandemic, with an estimated 20-25% of children affected. 

Using data from 193 surveys from parents about their child’s behavior, the researchers found a strong correlation between screen time and levels of depression and anxiety. The risk for depression and anxiety caused by high screen time was further enhanced based on levels of physical activity and age – younger children were more affected. 

High parental involvement and more siblings were two data points correlated with lower levels of anxiety and depression, suggesting that family interaction helps offset the negative effects of large amounts of screen time. 

This study highlights the importance of limiting technology access to children. Given that many schools use screens in the classroom, parents should be cautious with the amount of screen time they allow at home. The current screen time habits are unacceptable as the 4-hour average is having tremendous negative effects on our children. 

While a certain level of screen time is unavoidable, parents need to set a good example for their children and stay off of their screens too. Another recent study found that parents lead their families better when they stay off their phones around their kids. 

Movieguide® previously reported: 

A recent study linked that when parents use their phone or computer around their kids to unwind it leads to worse parenting.   

Science Direct wrote, “This study examined caregivers’ psychological well-being, digital media use, and parenting practices, with a particular focus on specific aspects of media use.” 

The study continued, “Caregivers (n = 549) with at least two children aged 5–18 participated in a multinational project examining family functioning and well-being amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents completed questionnaires assessing their psychological distress, media use habits, and parenting practices.”  

Science Direct concluded that there were “Comparisons of structural regression models revealed that operationalizing caregivers’ media use as a single general construct disregards important nuances in its relations to psychological distress and parenting. In a more detailed model, higher psychological distress was related to more screen time and media use for relaxation. Intrusions of media in interactions with family members and media use for relaxation were associated with lower-quality parenting.” 

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