FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – While e-learning is keeping students home and socially distant amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the lack of physical activity and increased amounts of screen time kids are exposed to at home is raising concerns for doctors.
“There are going to be some unintended consequences of virtual learning,” said Dr. Tony GiaQuinta from Parkview Physicians Group Pediatric. “The things that we worry about is that kids are going to be glued to a screen and missing out on all those really important social interactions and physical activities that are involved for the entirety of a child’s health.”
In regards to the lack of physical activity, Dr. GiaQuinta says he’s been struck by how much weight he’s observed his patients gain over the last six months.
“We know that the amount of calories that kids expend just by going to school and back is somewhere in the thousands,” said Dr. GiaQuinta. “Think about walking to a bus stop every day, walking between classes everyday, going to recess, going to after school hobbies and sports… That is a significant amount of calories that probably aren’t being replicated at home.”
Pediatricians also have concerns about the social interactions kids are missing out on at home. However, perhaps the biggest worry, is the dramatic increase in children’s screen time because this causes them to miss out on other, more brain-enriching, activities.
One worry is that watching just one screen is not allowing children’s brains to move from left to right, which according to Dr. GiaQuinta, is critical for adequate brain development.
“We can see that in MRI’s of children, those that are exposed to more screen time versus those that are exposed to more enriching activities like playing with blocks and coloring,” said Dr. GiaQuinta.
For older children, doctors worry about the interactions with friends and hobbies that give kids value and self worth that are being missed out on.
“When we miss out on those, it really does affect their mood and lead to increase isolation, increased anxiety, and we certainly worry about the deleterious impacts down the road of increased suicidality after that,” said Dr. GiaQuinta.
Too much screen time is also something that can impact kids’ sleep.
“We know that kids that watch more screen are getting way less sleep and that has so many bad effects on their health, including increased anxiety, increased stress and emotional ability,” said Dr. GiaQuinta.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children over the age of two receive no more than two hours of screen time a day, which in the era of virtual learning is not necessarily feasible.
While increased amounts of screen time can be unavoidable with the coronarvirus, Dr. GiaQuinta says it should be a priority for kids to set aside time to get outdoors and participate in other activities that will enrich their brain. Examples of these activities include healthy exercise, drawing and finding other hobbies they’re good at.
To keep children off of their screens before bed, Dr. GiaQuinta recommends establishing a healthy routine before bed that doesn’t involve a phone or television.
“We find that when screens are involved, whether we’re watching screens as we’re going to bed, or even in the background noise, we’re finding that kids aren’t getting that deep sleep and aren’t getting that natural progression into those deep sleeps,” said Dr. GiaQuinta.
Another recommendation is when screens aren’t being used for schoolwork, parents could only let children use their screens as a reward to ensure that kids are getting other activity throughout the day.
Dr. GiaQuinta also suggests the AAP Media Guide to help parents and children come up with a plan to agree on what the appropriate amount of screen time is.
The link to the guide can be found here.