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Less screen time and more structure helps kids cope with the pandemic, study finds

Researchers say spending more time in nature and getting enough sleep also helps

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Young children and teens have had their worlds flipped upside-down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything from how they spend time with their friends to how they go to school has been changed, but researchers say there are ways parents can help with the coping process. 

In a recent study published in PLOS ONE, the team says setting a structured daily schedule and reducing passive screen time can help young people better deal with the mental strain that has been linked to the pandemic.

"Mental health problems increased dramatically among children and adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among those who experienced high levels of pandemic-related stressors including serious illness or death of a family member, significant financial loss, and social isolation,” the researchers said.

Negative and positive influences

The researchers based their recommendations on a study of 224 young people and their caregivers who lived in the greater Seattle area. Participants filled out a questionnaire that assessed various factors related to the pandemic, their social behaviors, and their stress levels. 

The findings showed that stressors that were linked to the pandemic had a very strong association with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and behavioral problems in young people. Some of the stressors included increased passive screen time and too much exposure to news media. 

While the team says parents should be mindful of these negative influences, there are some positive influences that can be focused on to produce better outcomes. For example, the team found that providing children and teens with a structured schedule helped minimize negative mental health symptoms. Spending time in nature and getting the recommended amount of sleep were also positive influences on participants’ mental health. 

The researchers admit that the pandemic has made it hard for some families to focus on these positive influences, but they say the investment is well worth it.

“Although maintaining routine and structure is challenging as school closures continue and many aspects of daily life remain unpredictable, creating a structured daily routine for children and adolescents may promote better mental health during the pandemic,” they said.

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