Nearly half of parents report more arguments with kids over screen time during pandemic

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A man holds a smart phone with the icons for the social networking apps Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seen on the screen in Moscow on March 23, 2018. (Photo by Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP) (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP via Getty Images)

(NEXSTAR) – Wondering how an increase in social isolation and screen time use may be affecting your child? On Thursday, the new Digital Wellness Lab at Boston Children’s Hospital released the findings of their national survey studying exactly that.

The Digital Wellness Lab, an evolution of the hospital’s Center on Media and Child Health, surveyed 1,569 parents of children in grades K-12 in March, 2021 to “document both the challenging and beneficial experiences that families have had with media” during the pandemic.

The survey found that, for many families, there has been both an increase in screen time as well as arguments over the use of the television and other digital devices.

More than half of the parents surveyed said that their children were watching more television (59% of parents), watching more videos on mobile devices (65% of parents) and playing more video games (57% of parents) than before the pandemic. Nearly 50% said their children were making more video calls than before and 45% saw an increase in social media use.

Nearly half of those surveyed said they had argued more often with their children over digital media use, and 36% of respondents said those disagreements had become “more severe” than pre-COVID disputes. Almost 20% of parents said they had screen-time disagreements more than once a day.

For many parents, however, their children’s use of digital media during the pandemic also had a bright side.

Half of those who took the survey said that it had helped their child in terms of their family relationships. Another 56% said such technology had helped their children’s friend relationships. Just over half said it had a beneficial effect on their educational achievement (52%). More than 60% of parents reported a “somewhat or very positive experience” with remote learning, with the rosiest reviews for reading (52%), followed by math (48%) and speaking skills (32%).

When it came to physical health, 39 percent of parents thought their child was getting less activity with 22% saying they worried that media use was harming their physical health.

More than 1 out of 3 parents said their child at least sometimes experienced some sort of physical problem after remote schooling, such as headaches (40%), back pain (35%), eye pain/strain (47%) and fatigue (39%).

The Digital Wellness Lab says the results of the survey, while mixed, show the extent of media’s role in children’s lives during the pandemic and the need for more research into the short- and long-term consequences.

“The cacophony of opposing opinions on digital use and the impact of screens on children often leaves us confused, overwhelmed and wary,” said Boston Children’s Hospital’s Michael Rich, MD, MPH, founder of the Digital Wellness Lab and associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “We need something better than opinions. The Digital Wellness Lab is a hub for unbiased, scientific research and tools at your fingertips that parents, and all users, need now. This knowledge will allow us to synergize rather than criticize, working together with technology innovators and content creators to build a digital environment that promotes individual and societal wellness.”

The Lab has also released a 2021 Family Digital Wellness Guide to help parents navigate the daily questions around digital media and their children’s mental and physical wellbeing.

“We all need to start thinking about how our behaviors with digital devices affect our physical and mental health,” said Kristelle Lavallee, Senior Content Strategist at the Digital Wellness Lab. “Digital wellness needs to be addressed as a critical part of overall health and wellbeing in today’s world.”

See more about the Digital Wellness Lab and full survey results.

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