The pandemic has compelled many teachers to integrate new technology into their lesson plans, increasing the risks excessive screen time can pose to students.

A 2019 report from Wisconsin’s Office of Children’s Mental Health found teens who log more than seven hours a day on electronics are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

Linda Hall, director of the office, acknowledged that screen time is essentially unavoidable for modern students, but says parents can make plans to limit kids’ tech use after school.

“When parents actually have a plan, they have a family plan for how screen time is going to be used,” said Hall, “the data shows that it makes a difference, that kids start using it less.”

The OCMH offers several strategies for limiting kids’ screen usage; including increasing opportunities for physical activities and extracurricular events and restricting where in their homes tech can be used.

Scott Edmonds, chief eye care officer with United Healthcare, said excessive screen usage – and the resulting exposure to blue light – also can impact how well folks sleep at night.

“It suppresses the release of the hormone melatonin, which is our sleep hormone,” said Edmonds. “So when you’re exposed to blue light late in the day, your sleep can be disrupted.”

Per the 2019 report – the most recent year such data is available – only about a quarter of teens reported that they got a full eight hours of sleep each night.

Hall said parents shouldn’t view technology as inherently bad. She added that when used in moderation, it can help kids create new connections and nurture existing ones.

In several listening sessions her office has held with young Wisconsinites, students have said those virtual connections can serve as support structures during uncertain times.

“These young people,” said Hall, “are telling us that they are so excited that they are able to talk to other kids who understand what they’re going through, and are concerned about mental health and how to make things better for kids at their school.”

Hall advised parents to serve as a role model for healthy screen usage, in part by avoiding multi-tasking and placing their phones on silent when around kids.

According to a 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center, more than half of parents admitted they spent too much time on their phones.

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