Story at a glance

  • The pandemic has required more screen usage for remote learning for many students.
  • A survey of non-school related screen time suggests watching videos and video games take up the bulk of the time.
  • The researchers found that higher screen use was associated with worry and stress and lowered coping abilities.

Screen use is up during the pandemic for many people, especially for adolescents and young adults. Health experts are concerned about how screen use may be related to physical and mental health. A new analysis of survey data gives insights into what has changed for teens in their habits and usage of devices.

In a research letter published in JAMA Pediatrics, a team of researchers looked at results from a survey taken in May 2020 as part of the COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Release from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. The study includes more than 5,400 adolescents aged 12 to 13 years old. The teens were nearly split evenly by females and males, and also included individuals who identify as Asian, Black, Latino and Native American.

The survey asked for self-reported hours spent on various activities outside of school work like playing multiplayer or single-player video games, texting, social media, video chatting, and watching movies, videos or TV shows.


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On average, the adolescents reported about 7.7 hours of screen time per day, with the bulk of that time spent watching videos (2.42 hours per day) or playing video games (1.44 hours per day). The data also suggests that screen time is related to the teens’ mental health. “As screen time increased, so did adolescents’ worry and stress, while their coping abilities declined,” says study author Jason Nagata at the University of California, San Francisco in a press release. “Though social media and video chat can foster social connection and support, we found that most of the adolescents’ screen use during the pandemic didn’t serve this purpose.”

They also saw differences among racial groups. “We generally found higher screen time in Black and Latino/a adolescents and in those from lower-income households,” Nagata says in the press release. “This may be due to structural and systemic factors, such as lack of financial resources to do other kinds of activities or lack of access to safe outdoor spaces.”

Pre-pandemic estimates for screen use stood at around 3.8 hours per day for the same cohort, according to the researchers. Although this survey data is from last year, it may well continue to be accurate now since some studies have suggested the elevated use persists after restrictions are lifted. The study authors write, “Adolescents experiencing stress and poor mental health may use screens to manage negative feelings or withdraw from stressors.”


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Published on Nov 02, 2021