Key Research

Assessment of Changes in Child and Adolescent Screen Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Key Takeaways:

  • Study examines changes in the duration, content, and context of daily screen time among children and adolescents globally
  • Increase of 52% observed; this increase corresponds to a daily mean of 246 minutes of screen time per day
  • Screen time increases were highest for individuals aged 12 to 18 years and for handheld devices and personal computers for connection to peers; changes in television, gaming, and social media were similar to pre-pandemic levels
  • Given that the pandemic affected entire families, this is an entire family issue
  •  “This study shows an association between the COVID-19 pandemic and increases in screen time; practitioners and pandemic recovery initiatives should focus on fostering healthy device habits, including moderating use, monitoring content, prioritizing device-free time, and using screens for creativity or connection.”

LiveMore ScreenLess’ Summary

School closures, social distancing from peers, and quarantining due to COVID-19 exposure are just a few examples of how young people’s lives were upended by the pandemic. Meanwhile,  parents struggled with job insecurity, loss of child care, and increased home-schooling, which added to individual and familial stress. As both a coping mechanism as well as often a school mandated one, many children and families turned to digital devices to occupy their time. 

But how great and pervasive was this shift globally? In a meta-analysis of 46 different world-wide studies (including nearly 30,000 young people), researchers sought to address this question.

The studies documented associations between significant child screen and poor sleep,  lack of physical activity, poor language and communication skills, and negative outcomes for both  mental health and academic success. Up to 80% of apps for children are also purposefully built with persuasive design features in order to maintain children’s attention. These researchers note that content used and context of use need to be studied in addition to duration of use

The large increase in use among the 12 – 18 age group is largely due to a desire to connect with peers, which was not observed among younger age groups. Children and adolescents who used screens to co-view or connect with others during the pandemic had half as much screen time as their peers who viewed screens in a solitary manner.

Notably, parental screen use was found to be strongly associated with children’s screen use. Furthermore, parental stress during the pandemic was associated with increased duration of screen use among [their] children. Accordingly, the unique dimensions of family screen use also merit further study.

Madigan S, Eirich R, Pador P, McArthur BA, Neville RD. Assessment of Changes in Child and Adolescent Screen Time During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Pediatr. 2022;176(12):1188–1198. 

Topics: Pandemic , Screen Time

Year: 2022

Hosting University: University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada)

Participants: 29,017 youths

Data Collection: meta-analysis of 46 studies, before and during pandemic