According to a 2021 study, Australians will spend almost 17 years – or 33% of their waking life – on their smartphone – and screentime use has only increased during the COVID-19 pandemic when the lockdowns forced the majority of us to communicate by computers instead of in person.
As might be expected, children’s screen time in Australia increased sharply as a result of the pandemic. Unavoidably, educational screentime has also skyrocketed. One study found that educational screentime use spiked from 10 minutes per day pre-2020 to 170 minutes a day during the pandemic.
However, it is estimated that leisure screen time also increased – by a whopping 50%.
Dr Dot Dumuid, senior research fellow of Allied Health & Human Performance at UniSA, says the implications of excessive screen time should be taken very seriously by parents and educators.
“Excessive screentime encourages being sedentary and snacking, screen time is linked with obesity, higher risk of cardiovascular disease, blood pressure and insulin resistance. Screen time is also linked with poorer and shorter sleep,” Dr Demuid told The Educator.
“There is some evidence that excessive screen time can increase the risk for depression, anxiety, suicide, and inattention among children and adolescents.”
However, Dr Demuid said screens have also been a “lifesaver” during the pandemic.
“Screens have enabled education and socialisation to continue,” he said.
“They have also kept us entertained with events such as the Olympics during the most stringent of lockdowns.”
Dr Demuid said parents and educators can help young people strike a healthy balance in their screentime use by using digital devices to promote a healthy lifestyle.
“Screens aren’t all bad. Some of the unhealthy consequences of sedentary behaviour could be overcome if screens are used to promote physical activity. This could be through platforms such as online PE classes, exercise mobile apps, or active video games,” Dr Demuid said.
“Avoiding screens in the hour before bedtime can prevent some of the sleep disturbances that be caused by screen time.”
Dr Demuid said that while there are mental health risks associated with excessive screen use, screens have enabled socialisation and connection, and access to online mental health, support services, counselling and therapy sessions.
“Health bodies suggest that families should develop their own screen use plans, rather than trying to adhere to arbitrary screen time limits recommended by current health guidelines or experiencing guilt over excess screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic.”