23 Screen Time Negatively Affecting Children During COVID-19

Hannah Freeman

Introduction

Anxiety and depression is closely connected to high levels of time spent on computer and device screens (“Screen Time Affect Kids’”). Over this pandemic it is only natural for people to increase their use of online technology. After all, it is the only way to get a large number of things done during a time that is as unpredictable as this. But should the accomplishment of ‘getting things done’ online come with such a big pitfall?  As a result of online technology the mental health of everyone is at a risk.

As a society, we are so quick to celebrate being able to work and go to school from the comfort of our own homes through web communication software, but what does this entail? For children with growing minds, this means rarely leaving the house, not changing out of their pajamas all day, sitting looking at a computer or iPad for hours during their “school day,” only to get out from class and browse the internet for games to play or some other type on entertainment. This pandemic has caused the most impressionable minds to be locked into a screen for the majority of their day. Playgrounds are deemed unsafe and meeting up with friends to play outside is unheard of due to the risk of infection. The increase in screen time due to COVID-19 will lead to long-term dependency on technology, as well as an increase in mental health issues for elementary and middle school children. The use of technology has made connecting with people easier and quicker, but as a result there is a huge detachment from human interactions, motivation, and mental health.

Connection to Science and Technology- Social Constructivism 

Science and Technology are a part of every aspect of our lives nowadays. They are constantly growing and developing and during the pandemic. Technology is what connects people to one another in the COVID-19 world, no matter what distance is between them. The social constructivism theory applies to this. This theory represents the idea that human interaction is socially situated, and knowledge is learned through interactions with others (McLeod). The social situation at hand is the pandemic. Though it is decreasing face to face human interactions, it is increasing online interactions with people. The increase of technology use during the pandemic goes hand in hand with the increase of interaction with others through a virtual world. The more time adolescents spend on screens, whether in gaming, schoolwork, or for their leisure, they are gaining some sort of human interaction with the people on the other side of the screen.

It is human nature to feed off of the information other people around them provide, whether this information is valid or not. During the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic information regarding the virus was being passed around online with minimal research to prove what was being said. There were false numbers, along with false accusations regarding the seriousness of this pandemic. The social constructivism theory’s assertion that technology is socially situated in our society is truer than ever in our situation today. So much information has been made online. This development makes it easier to gain knowledge through interactions with online acquaintances, even though this knowledge is often not valid.

Dependence on Technology Prior to the Pandemic

Prior to this nationwide pandemic, our society already depended on technology for practically everything. Everywhere you went there was some form of technology: registers at checkout, menus at drive-thru, scanning in and out at a gym.  Humans rely on a phone to wake them up in the morning, remind them of the things they have scheduled for that day, and even to turn on their cars before walking out the door. An electronic device is programmed to do just about anything you need.  They have been designed to make our lives easier. This is simply not the case. Technology has, in turn, programmed us to rely on it. We trust it with anything and everything. You no longer see people carrying around flash drives to save their hard work. People no longer feel the need to remember passwords or even something as important as their social security number. They can just be store this information in their iPhone or to ‘the cloud’.

Technology Use During the Pandemic

The unhappiness of the child while using the devices in front of her shows how children who are technology dependent during this pandemic feel. This image represents how consumed in technology younger generations are due to the pandemic.

Now, mid-pandemic, the United States is relying on internet access as well as web communication technology more than ever. It is the only way to get information out safely and effectively. According to the United Nations, the Coronavirus is “requiring governments to adopt an open government approach and to use digi­tal communication channels to provide reliable infor­mation on global and national COVID-19 developments” (United Nations). This pandemic is forcing countries to turn every source of information digital.

On a smaller scale, schools are being forced to turn everything digital. It is the fastest and most efficient way to reach students. Teachers were asked to make their lesson plans work for remote learning overnight.  They were being called on to replicate a school setting over the internet for their students for as long as school officials needed them to do so. In an unprecedented time, teachers suddenly had to shelter at home. They had to quickly develop virtual lessons for their students and harness technologies new and old to reach out to and teach every student (Turner). America’s schools have never had to improvise like this.  So, what exactly does the new online learning look like?  For Gordon, a third-grade teacher in Richmond, Virginia who was interviewed by National Public Radio in April 2020, this means sending out assignments via email every morning. He would then work on instructional videos for his students to watch, hoping that they would absorb class content this way (Turner). This is the new reality that students have been forced to become adjust to. They are learning virtually through videos and doing assignments without the in-person interactions that a classroom brings. There is no one to ask for help and get immediate results.

Dependence on Technology and Mental Health

This image is a visual on how brains are perceived while suffering from a mental illness. I believe this image speaks volumes about how people with mental illnesses feel; they just aren’t all there all of the time. This relates to my topic because the increase in screen time affects the mental wellbeing of people.

The pitfall of being a technology dependent society is the decrease in mental health, which we will start seeing in younger generations. Medical experts have long noted that too much internet use will lead to mental instability, in the form of increased anxiety, depression and disruption to sleep. They point, for example, that social media use often causes people to develop disorders such as excessively comparing their lives with that of others, dependency on praise from other people and constantly checking for responses to their posts (“How the Internet Affects”). In 2018 the National Institute of Health Conducted a study on the affects of screen time on children and adolescents. The results were that this generation faces more anxieties, depression, as well as various other mental struggles than any other generation before. The article also highlights the fact that the children and adolescents spent around seven hours per day on their devices, suggesting that this is a major indicator of their decrease in mental health (“Screen Time Affects Kids“).

The hours that kids were spending on their screens during the time of this study was strictly for entertainment purposes and social interaction. Devices now are being used for more than fun and social interaction. Younger generations are being bombarded with technology at such a fast rate that they do not get the chance to find another outlet. Now that they are learning through computer screens, children’s lives are being consumed by technology. It is not only seven hours that they are spending on a screen anymore. It is much longer. The health issues for today’s youth is going to be nothing like what has been seen before.

I would like to shine a light on another ugly truth about the Coronavirus’s impact on young people. Mental health conditions are normally established at early ages in life. To be mentally healthy as adults children and adolescents must receive sufficient exercise and stimulation to help develop their brains. Schools provided much of this development for children prior to COVID-19. Being physically inside of a school is much more than learning, it is the development of social skills, it is an escape from home, it is where elementary and middle schoolers get to grow and be around other kids that are learning at similar pace. The school is also a place where most children find and seek help. It is often the place where a mental illness is discovered and treated. In 2014 the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), a major study on health services for children children aged 12 to 17 conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services noted that 13.2% of adolescents in the US received some sort of mental health services from a school setting. (Golberstein et al.). A study by the University of Minnesota, Harvard and the Wellbeing Trust Foundation in 2020 also noted that, “Among adolescents who received any mental health services during 2012 to 2015, 35% received their mental health services exclusively from school settings” (Golberstein et al.). With the  pandemic creating unfortunate mix of technological dependence and not receiving the resources that schools provide, millions of children and adolescents are now suffering in silence. Economic downtowns affect adult unemployment, disrupting the mental health of many adults and causing child maltreatment (Golberstein et al.). Children and adolescents are suffering the impact of COVID-19 on mental health more than any other group. The Coronavirus and the measures that have been put in school systems to contain it are doing nothing but worsening the mental health of youths across America.

Obviously, treatment and attention from schools is not the only way to receive help regarding mental illnesses. Scheduling an appointment and seeing a healthcare provider who aids in treating mental illness online is still an option. But for millions for individuals that seek free medical attention from their schools, this is sadly not realistic. For many families services provided by schools is the only treatment option available. Community-based services are out of reach for so many. Even for the families that can afford outside treatment children often feel safer talking to adults that they know in a school than to an outside therapist (Golberstein et al.).

There is an opportunity to use technology to everyone’s advantage. This is for school systems to find a way to offer online medical assistance to every student. Implementing this measure would take a lot of resources. Medical professionals must be willing to do so, and there must be adequate online communications technology and wifi for each student. Virtual treatment would also have to be done at no cost to the students who feel the need to use the service. This is a solution that could counteract and contain the mental health crisis that we will be seeing in youths. However, it is very unlikely anything along this direction will be put into action.

Conclusion

An increase in screen time directly correlates to increased mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, particularly for younger generations. These mental health issues are negatively effecting everyday life. As a society we are often so indulged in the newest device that we lose sight of the relationship between technology and the decrease in mental health in many people. During the COVID-19 pandemic school has been swapped for a teacher on a device and everything else regarding the classroom has been made online. A child’s entire day now revolves around technology. This is how interactions that cannot happen face to face during the pandemic are taking place, and online interactions are happening at an excessive rate. The spike in mental health issues we will see in children in elementary and middle school will be a direct result of the new dependency our society has formed around technological devices.  The repercussions of becoming technologically dependent will be detrimental to our youth.

References 

United Nations. “Digital Technologies Critical in Facing COVID-19 Pandemic | UN DESA Department of Economic and Social Affairs.” United Nations, 15 Apr. 2020, www.un.org/development/desa/en/news/policy/digital-technologies-critical-in-facing-covid-19-pandemic.html.

Golberstein, Ezra, et al. “COVID-19 and Mental Health for Children and Adolescents.” JAMA Pediatrics, vol. 174, no. 9, 2020, pp. 819-820. jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2764730.

“How Does Screen Time Affect Kids’ Mental Health?” Rogers Behavioral Health, 1 Aug. 2018, rogersbh.org/about-us/newsroom/blog/how-does-screen-time-affect-kids-mental-health.

McLeod, Saul. “Saul McLeod.” Constructivism as a Theory for Teaching and Learning | Simply Psychology, www.simplypsychology.org/constructivism.html.

“How the Internet Affects Your Mental Health.” Piedmont Healthcare, www.piedmont.org/living-better/how-the-internet-affects-your-mental-health.

Turner, Cory, et al. “’There’s A Huge Disparity’: What Teaching Looks Like During Coronavirus.” NPR, 11 Apr. 2020, www.npr.org/2020/04/11/830856140/teaching-without-schools-grief-then-a-free-for-all.

Images

“Beautiful redhead child talking by smartphone and looking at camera while using laptop” by AndrewLozovyi is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

“Mental Health Mental Health Free Photo” by Tumisu is in the Public Domain, CC0.

 

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