How lockdown changed Americans' screen time habits

Survey from confirms an increase in screen time--up 57% --in the US, but experts say the impact isn't necessarily bad for kids.

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A new survey from revealed Americans' screen time habits, since many are working-from-home and sheltering-at-home: Unsurprisingly the numbers are up. 

Of the surveyed Americans, 57% said their screen time has increased by one hour or more since going into isolation, 30% say they spend the majority of their time streaming TV shows or movies while at home, and 70% admit to downloading a new app as a way to stay entertained while in quarantine. The survey was conducted with a specific focus of the additional screen time on children in isolation.

Since for most, the quarantine began in mid to late March when schools were still in session. Educators and administrators scrambled to transfer traditionally on-ground lessons--for kindergarteners to grad students--into virtual classes. There were inevitable complications. The younger the students, the more difficult it is to develop an effective online curriculum.

Students who were given limited access to the internet were having to "go to" school online, at the same time many of their parents were telecommuting, creating a chaotic weekday of online use. There was often a generational overlap, with parents trying to assist their children with homework, while trying not to neglect work, or even appear to do so. Given the nature of isolation, instead of playing with friends, many students not only needed the internet for school, but sought entertainment from it, whether in the form of movies, TV shows, or gaming (Animal Crossing anyone?).

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For parents who impose restrictions on their kids' non-essential online access, isolating has changed much of that. So how do parents combat this seemingly over-extended screen time?

"For children, screen time is typically referred to as time spent watching television, which includes traditional television, streaming television or games on the television, or playing games or streaming videos on a device such as a tablet or phone," said Jessica Leichtweisz, CEO of Hope Education Services, and an autism expert. 

While Dr. Fran Walfish, who wrote "The Self-Aware Parent" agreed, "I think of screen time as including playing video games (solo or with others online), cruising the internet, watching film/TV shows online, and video chatting with friends," other experts remind of the lure of social media, but spun the fears into something more productive: "[O]ne can either be 'participant' or a 'consumer' when it comes to screen time," said Diana Graber, who wrote "Raising Humans in a Digital World," and founder of Cyber Civics/Cyberwise.

"Skype and FaceTime are great examples of 'participating' with screens, rather than mindlessly consuming YouTube videos," Graber said. "Making and uploading a video, writing a blog post, engaging in a group chat about school work are all great examples of participating with media in ways that are positive and productive. The point is, not all screen time is 'bad.'"



"Some benefits of screen time include providing a place for youth to connect with like-minded others, opportunities to explore interests and hobbies that aren't available to one in 'real' life, and keeping in touch with far-away friends and family," Graber said.

Some parents don't count all online time as play time. Jessica Rolph, co-founder and CEO of Lovery, pointed out the good benefits for learning or bonding: "Even many parents who say no to screens in all other aspects of their children's lives are fine with video chats because the science supports the serve-and-return conversation.".

Others look at it as a beneficial tool for school and socializing and exposure to technology, notably, when screen time is moderated for both time and content. It's important to encourage physical activity, even if the kids have to be socially distanced. 

"Parents should carefully monitor what their children are watching and consider a tablet specifically designed for children that limits what content they can access to child-friendly educational material," Leichtweisz said.

Sherry Skyler Kelly, founder of PositiviTeens added, "You and your kids can access a variety of information, but you need to choose wisely. Be a discerning and smart consumer of the online products and services."

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Little student girl with laptop pc at home

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

By N.F. Mendoza

N.F. Mendoza is a writer at TechRepublic and based in Los Angeles. She has a BA in Broadcast Journalism and Cinema Critical Studies and a Master's of Professional Writing, both from USC. Nadine has more than 20 years experience as a journalist coveri...