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Expert says increased screen time during pandemic will have lasting effects

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PEORIA (WEEK) -- Kids around the world had their learning methods turned upside down throughout the pandemic. While in the past parents set limits on screen time, those screens became one of the only ways for children to learn and communicate.

"She can't have a face to face conversation anymore. She won't chat. She will type," said Groveland parent, Jennifer Fee.

Fee's 16-year-old daughter was not only up against the normal stressors faced by young adults, add in the pandemic, remote learning and limited time with friends.

"I saw her go from a normal blooming active child and then they put an ipad in her hand," said Fee.

She said her daughter's grades plummeted since online learning began and right along with it, her mental health.

"My daughter says, "It's so stressful mom," and I believe it, but I don't know how to help because I don't understand," Fee explained.

Doctor Kyle Boerke at OSF Healthcare studied the effects of social media usage on children and teens over the past few years. His research showed a correlation between increased use of apps like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat and increases in anxiety and depression.

"It's not necessarily just because of increased screen time, it really has to do with increased social media usage," said Doctor Boerke.

"They're so anxious and upset all the time and caught up in this drama they just don't seem happy," Fee said.

Now the question asked is, what is the solution? Most parents felt they couldn't take away the screen when it was the only connection their children had to the outside world.

"The more rules you lay down the more they pull away," said Fee.

Doctor Boerke said taking away the devices would not help.

"Schedule downtimes, we are going to have access to our social media, electronic device from this time to this time. We're going to shut it down at a specific time," said Doctor Boerke.

Doctor Kapil Aedma at UnityPoint Health said parents need to model behavior for change to begin, decreased screen time for themselves. He also said it was important to provide alternatives.

"Get them all kinds of puzzles, board games, other things they can do," said Doctor Aedma.

Fee said it was not that easy.

"You try to get them to play a board game, you try to get them to do things. They're completely uninterested," said Fee.

Doctor Boerke thought the increased screen time would have long term effects, but they might not all be negative after lived through the pandemic and all it brought their way.

"I do believe that we're going to have kids who are stronger, more resilient and better able to deal with challenges in their future," said Doctor Boerke.

"I want my daughter on books. I want the iPad gone," Fee continued, "I just want her to be happy. I want to see her light up."

Doctor Boerke and Doctor Aedma along with Fee, hoped for change to come in the next school year, along with a return to some sense of normalcy.

Paige Blanzy

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