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How the Pandemic Is Altering Kids’ Relationship with Technology

March 18, 2021 • Our Blog • General Health
With the time kids spend in front of screens more than doubling since the start of the pandemic, it’s time to start considering the long-term impact of this changing relationship with technology.  As we near the one year mark of navigating the coronavirus pandemic, parents across the country are taking stock of how life has changed, for better and for worse. One thing that is becoming increasingly clear is that this past year has seen a major surge in screen time and technology use for children. The unknown — which has for many months been kept on the backburner for lack of an answer or alternative, but is now concerning parents, pediatricians, and scientists alike — is the impact of that increase.  Many will remember that in the early months of the pandemic, much of the messaging around increasing technology use was aimed at reducing guilt for parents. After all, it was a period of increased stress and new challenges for everyone and if devices could make that transition a little easier for everyone involved, what was the real cost? 11 months later we are starting to see that cost as legions of children and adolescents devote endlessly increasing hours to videos, games, apps, and more while their parents struggle to find viable alternatives.

The Problems of Increased Screen Time

Scientists have long contended that technology has addictive properties. Even if you haven’t seen the research backing such claims, you’ve surely witnessed the evidence yourself, either in your own life or in that of your friends and family. Until now, that addictive nature had never been fully realized. As scientists begin to consider the long-term impact of the increase in screen time during the pandemic, though, it’s becoming clear that the pandemic will leave many children and adolescents addicted to technology.  Addiction expert and professor of psychology at Stanford University Keith Humphreys explained the issue succinctly, saying “there will be a period of epic withdrawal” once the pandemic ends, as young people struggle to “sustain attention in normal interactions without getting a reward hit every few seconds.” The good news is that younger people may be able to eventually gain satisfaction in an offline world once again following the pandemic, thanks largely to the “plastic” nature of their brains, which makes it easier for them to adapt and shift to changing circumstances. Unfortunately, that return will only become more difficult the longer they are immersed in rapid-fire digital stimulation. Further concerns about the increase in technology use are tied to the fact that devices are poor substitutes for many of the activities and interactions that are known to be essential to the health and social and physical development of children. These include things like physical play and other social interactions, which help kids learn how to navigate challenging social situations. 

What Comes Next?

All of these concerns, while extremely important and valid, exist within the context of the continuing COVID pandemic, which makes addressing increased technology use among children uniquely challenging. Many parents express a kind of hopelessness in the face of their children’s reliance on technology. While some are trying to implement some kind of control over their children’s technology consumption, some are simply hoping that the world will return to normal soon enough for their children to recover.  Dr. Humphreys believes that children, as well as adults, can learn to disconnect with disciplined time away from their devices. That leaves hope for a return to normalcy following the pandemic, but it is also complicated by the basic reality that technology is an essential part of everyday life, which makes it much more difficult to disconnect.  Sadly, there are no easy answers when it comes to addressing the increase in technology use among children. Even though increasing the time your child spends in front of a screen is completely understandable under the circumstances, it is also reasonable to feel concerned and frustrated in the face of these challenges.  If you are concerned about your child’s relationship with technology — or about how the COVID pandemic as a whole may be impacting them — the Kids’ Health pediatric clinic in Beverly, Massachusetts can be a great resource for navigating this tricky territory. Our comprehensive approach to healthcare can help you better understand your child’s situation and help you both develop a plan to create a healthier relationship with technology. If you want to bring your child in, call us or reach out online to schedule an in-person or telehealth appointment today. ...