A New Year and the Ghost of COVID Past

Now that we’re closing in on the end of 2021—while also dealing with the latest round of COVID-19 variants and mandates—it’s probably as good a time as any to look back over this last year or so and see what impact our stretch of collective sickness, worry, isolation, quarantine and mask-wearing has had on our kids.

Of course, that kind of discussion could probably stretch on for a very long time if we closely examined all the nooks and crannies. Instead let’s just look at a few areas here.

As you’ve read (or heard) us address regularly, a top Plugged In concern is over kids’ screen time. So, let’s start there.

According to a recently published study in JAMA Pediatrics, screen time outside of virtual school (back when kids were working solely on their laptops and tablets) doubled during lockdown periods. That works out as an increase from an estimated 3.8 hours per day to a whopping 7.7 hours per day. That’s like a full day on the job, so to speak. And again, that’s in addition to the time they were investing in virtual school.

Oh, and just in case you’re thinking, thank goodness the kids are back in school, well, think again. The study suggests that new habits are hard to break. Most kids that upped their eye-ball-on-screen time during the lockdown are still spending close to the same increased amount now that school is back in session.

Now, you might not be so concerned about screen time. I mean, hey, we’ve all spent more time watching the screens in our lives—and that includes video games, TV shows, movies, YouTube, video chats, etc. etc. But the fact is, screen time does make a difference in kid’s lives. Researchers using data from a long-term study of brain development funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that higher screen-time usages were directly associated with poorer mental health and greater perceived stress levels.

And that leads me to the next bit I wanted to point out.

A recent CNN article suggested that kids are more depressed because of recent happenings than they’ve pretty much ever been before. “One in 4 adolescents globally are ‘experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms, while 1 in 5 youth are experiencing clinically elevated anxiety symptoms,’” the article declared. And things seem to be continuing to worsen due to “social isolation, missed milestones, family financial problems and extended school disruptions.”

Now, I don’t want to just be a Donny Downer who tells you how rotten things are. It turns out that there is one area in which things have actually gotten better for our kids. According to research performed at McGill University, it looks like kids’ rest patterns tended to shift and they got more restorative sleep during the 2020 lockdown and beyond.

How did that happen when they were breaking rocks on their screens all day? I’m not sure. But Dr. Reut Gruber, a sleep researcher on the project, was pretty excited about the fact. “For our typical developing kids,” Dr. Gruber noted. “The ability to go to bed later, wake up later is like a great party.” And she said that she hopes that their work raises awareness about the kinds of sleep patterns and schedules teens and kids can benefit from.

So, what am I getting at with all this? Simple. One thing that the past year (and more) has shown is that there isn’t a lot that’s in our control. Unexpected change rolls into our lives like a tumbleweed on the plain. But out of those sometimes-crazy circumstances, both bad things and good things can result. As parents we need to be aware of both sides of the equation. And then, enlightened and wise, we can help encourage the better things while curbing those that are less so.

It’s not an easy task. But fortunately, it’s one that God has fortified us for and that we can celebrate. Or as Psalm 28:7 says: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.”

Here’s wishing you a new year filled with good things for you and your kids. Along with some of that leaping joy. Hey, we all could use a little more sleep, too.

Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.