Overall, children’s screen time had doubled year over year by May, according to Qustodio, a company that tracks usage on tens of thousands of devices used by children ages 4-15 worldwide. The data showed that usage increased over time: in the US, for example, children spent an average of 97 minutes a day on YouTube in March and April, compared with 57 minutes in February, and almost twice as much as a year earlier – with similar ones Trends in the UK and Spain. The company calls the monthly increase “The Covid Effect”.

Children turn to screens because they say they have no alternative activities or entertainment options – this is where they meet up with friends and go to school – while technology platforms take advantage of it by gaining loyalty through tactics like virtual money rewards or perks in “Limited Edition” seduce you for maintaining the daily “streak” of use.

“This was a gift for them – we gave them a captive audience: our children,” said Dr. Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. The costs are borne by the families, said Dr. Christakis, since increased online use is linked to anxiety, depression, obesity and aggression – “and the dependence on the medium itself”.

Crucially, the research only shows associations, which means heavy internet use doesn’t necessarily cause these problems. What concerns the researchers, at least, is that the use of devices is a poor substitute for activities known to be central to health, social, and physical development, including physical games and other interactions with which Children learn to deal with challenging social situations.

Yet parents express a kind of hopelessness with their options. Adhering to the pre-pandemic rules doesn’t just seem impractical, it can feel downright mean to keep children away from an important source of socializing.

Updated

Jan. 16, 2021, 4:07 p.m. ET

“So I take it away and you do what? A puzzle? Learn to sew? Knit? I don’t know what the expectations are, ”said Paraskevi Briasouli, a corporate writer who is raising four children, ages 8, 6, 3, and 1 in a two-bedroom Manhattan apartment with her husband. Device time has replaced sport on weekday afternoons and is up 70 percent on weekends, she said.

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