The social isolation imposed by the new coronavirus pandemic provided us with a new experience: the constant and almost uninterrupted use of the digital world. Among children and adolescents, the challenge includes using screens to perform school tasks, virtual classes, research, in addition to the affective use of electronic devices for contact with family and friends, and as an option for entertainment and leisure. With all these new needs, screen time among children and teenagers has skyrocketed in the past year, alarming parents and experts.
“Before the pandemic, my daughters were connected for about 2 hours a day. Today, it is almost 10 am”, points out Cristiane Pavan. The business manager, 40, is the mother of Yasmin, 13, and Manu, 9, who had classes from 8 am to 3:30 pm daily and twice a week played sports until 7 pm. “We were unable to adapt sports to the online routine,” says Yasmin. “We started making a lot of video calls to talk to friends.”
Controlling screen time is not an easy task, as the Brazilian likes to stay connected. The Digital in 2020 report, carried out by We Are Social and Hootsuite, points out that, in Brazil, internet usage time in 2020 was 9h17 (the third position in a ranking of 42 countries, behind only the Philippines and South Africa). The time we spend online is well above the global average, which is 6:43 am. “In a 24-hour day, spending 10 hours interacting with the screens is a lot”, believes Kelli Angelini, legal manager of NIC.br (Ponto BR Information and Coordination Center).
It is worth mentioning that 89% of the population between 9 and 17 years old was already an internet user in 2019, when the pandemic had not yet settled, according to the TIC Kids Online Brasil 2019 survey. “Parents, families need to keep in mind that the time spent on education and social activities (interaction with other people) are also counted as screen time. It is also necessary to provide other activities outside the screen “, recommends Kelli.
The specialists consulted by the Estadão claim that overexposure to electronic devices can trigger a series of problems ranging from poor posture, obesity, alternating mood and anxiety, to problems of myopia, hearing, growth and technological dependence.
Although the girls easily adapted to the online routine, the parents of Yasmin and Manu noted that the lack of physical exercise and overexposure to the brightness of the screens harmed their daughters. “They started to have difficulty sleeping, became more irritated and anxious”, says Diógenes Pavan.
Ana Luiza Vilar Bassalobre, 13, reports that her biggest challenge during the pandemic was studying. “When I tried to concentrate on classes, I was distracted on my cell phone. I had to redouble my effort, because at school there is no such distraction,” he says. In addition to school activities, she started taking online English and graphic arts classes and joined virtual games as a way of socializing. But, even with more difficulty for learning, the student should not return to face-to-face classes anytime soon. “My mother, Vera, 76, lives with us. The risk is still very high”, explains Ana Luiza’s mother, Flavia Vilar Bassalobre.
“Taking out her cell phone was a form of control, like when she spent a lot of time online or didn’t get good grades,” explains businesswoman Fabiana Moura, mother of Beatriz Hempel, 13. “Today, this is impossible, there is no possibility of restricting the use of electronic devices now,” laments Fabiana, calculating that her daughter’s screen time has increased by 80% in the pandemic.
Percentage similar to that perceived by Arthur’s mother, also 13 years old. “He had to learn many tools for school activities and also to interact with friends”, explains his mother, Edi Souza. She also says that the whole family started to use more applications and facilities that the virtual world offers. But, for the school year that will start soon, Arthur’s family opted for the hybrid format (in which the student takes face-to-face and virtual classes alternately). “I am more of playing in the street, I like to play ball I miss my friends”, says the student.
Evelyn Eisenstein, specialist of the Working Group on Health in the Digital Age of the Brazilian Society of Pediatrics (SBP), draws attention to the fact that “children are not mini-adults”. “Their brains are developing and are affected by the effect of the screens. Add to that the pandemic, with children and teenagers staying at home, the parents of the home office.”
As a consequence, Evelyn points out, the screen is used as entertainment and without supervision. “It is important to remember that they are beings with a developing brain and need time: to sleep, eat, exercise, play. Children need moments of active distraction, that is, in the autonomy of their movement and not passive looking at a screen “, recommends.
Cristiano Nabuco, coordinator of the Technological Dependencies Group at IPq – USP Psychiatry Institute, explains that “When we are reading a book, for example, the time that memory needs to be recruited is personal, it varies for each individual. To consolidate this information [que estamos lendo], we take our time (we tap the pencil in the mouth, we bite the finger …). When we have, primarily, a digital interaction, this brain time is not respected. This causes voltage overload, and as there is overload, we lose the ability to retain information. If there is no balance between online and offline, what we call information overflow is created “, he explains.
For the psychologist and researcher, when we take all the content that was offline and transport it, quickly, due to the needs, to the digital life, there is a loss of attention. “We were unable to retain the information at the level and speed at which it is presented, which starts to generate loss of long-term memory”, explains Nabuco. “This causes these children and adolescents to lose the capacity for associationism. They become more ‘shallow’, the first capacity sacrificed is creativity, they lose the ability of deep knowledge, they do not have as much capacity to interpret text, they lose the ability to retain information appropriately for the brain. That is, if [a informação] it’s not fast, fractional and telegraphed, it doesn’t arouse interest and, with that, a very negative leveling is created. ”
Andréa Jotta, psychologist and researcher, from the Laboratory of Psychology and Information and Communication Technologies at PUC-SP, explains that the digital ‘detox’ should happen gradually. “We have a period ahead of readjusting to the face-to-face world and this has to be done with patience and welcome.”
“When the use of technology is a choice (and not an imposition, as it is today), what will the child’s choice be? The face-to-face world will have to be very attractive to him,” he says. And parents will have to actively participate in this transition. “These generations were already born connected. So, it is useless to compare with the childhood of parents – who had a different reality. Teaching them the options of physical play is also a family task”, he points out.
In order for these children and adolescents to become interested in physical and physical activities again, Andréa explains that parents will have to encourage them by offering options for leisure, fun and, above all, “they will have to set an example”, she recalls. “If parents do not apply the conduct on a daily basis, they cannot charge them for their children.”