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The debate over how much screen time is healthy for young people is nothing new, but their devices have arguably never played as big a role in their lives as they do now during this global emergency.
With schools closed down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, children at home have turned to their screens for school work, entertainment and staying connected with friends. It is possible now that children are spending more time behind screens than the recommended hours.
Recent data shows that a majority of children between the ages of six and 12 in the US are spending at least 50 per cent more time in front of screens each day during this Covid-19 pandemic.
A 2019 study found that excessive use of screen time could have consequences for children’s development.
According to the study, parents should think of screens like giving junk food to their children: In small doses, it is okay but in excess, it has consequences.
When children spend too much time staring at screens, it could affect their communication and intelligence.
The American Academy of Paediatrics recommends that for children below two years, there should be no screen time at all while those above two years could have a maximum of one hour a day.
The Medical Director of Mission Paediatrics, Accra, Dr Marilyn Marbell Wilson, said children under two years should not be watching anything whether educational or not on either a tablet, phone, television; and above two years it should be a maximum of one hour a day.
“Anything beyond these will be excessive and it has been known to affect speech and language as well as intelligence,” she said.
Additionally, she said spending too much time behind screens can cause a child to be obese because they are just sitting and not moving to shed any energy.
Dr Wilson admitted that during this period of restricted movement, the tendency to increase screen time was high and while an increase in using devices could not be helped, it could be reduced.
She suggested that parents should structure and plan activities for the day because that would help limit the screen time for children.
“When the day is unplanned then children are left to do whatever they want and they may spend more time on their devices,” she said.
Dr Wilson said parents should include more family games in their plans and for families that had enclosed compounds the children could play and exercise more.
Furthermore, she said it was important to add some revision of school work to the daily plan and teach children home chores in order to keep them busy.
“Use this time to talk more and bond with family,” she added.