Ebola spikes teenage girls’ screen time, study finds

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The increase in screen time was similar to what happened during a genocidal outbreak in Africa Scientists have found that teenage girls’ screen time was nearly double during…

Ebola spikes teenage girls' screen time, study finds

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The increase in screen time was similar to what happened during a genocidal outbreak in Africa

Scientists have found that teenage girls’ screen time was nearly double during the 2014 Ebola pandemic.

Researchers said it was similar to what was seen during the genocidal invasion of Rwanda in 1994.

These findings are important as they provide further evidence of the potential deleterious impacts of excessive screen time on the brain.

The study was published in the journal Pediatrics.

There was a specific spike in girls’ screen time on 2 November 2014, the researchers say.

This coincided with the announcement from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that Ebola had broken out in West Africa.

Because of Ebola’s high fatality rate, it was not certain how much infection would take place before people start to catch symptoms.

Researchers at the University of Washington say their findings show that over a period of two months, between October and November 2014, both boys and girls experienced increased screen time.

Obesity risk

The study was based on questionnaires the authors gave to more than 3,200 students from public schools in Washington State. The teens also took part in a digital health survey.

The findings suggest girls’ screen time on average increased by 39 minutes between 2013 and 2014.

This was, the authors suggest, a direct result of parents attempting to limit screen time for their kids.

Boys’ screen time increased by 24 minutes over the two-month period.

In the digital health survey, researchers found teenagers were more likely to say they watched four or more hours of television a day. This was likely related to negative parental behaviours.

Dr Laura Levine, who led the research, said the results on screen time were consistent with other studies.

“We now have evidence in the children’s literature that screen time has an impact on a child’s development both at play and at school,” she said.

“It’s important that a child’s presence on social media and online games does not negate efforts to limit television time and or to have a family meal together.”

US Prime Minister, Bill Clinton, said in an interview with BBC Newsnight earlier this year that the popular culture was helping to create a generation of video games, smartphone addicts and “clicktivists” “constantly in your face”

Omid Lekach, the head of the American Academy of Pediatrics council on general practice and pediatrics, echoed these sentiments.

“This problem of screen time is not about children or the digital age, it’s about the family,” he said.

“Studies have shown parents who participate in several activities at the same time, such as take baths, eat dinner and talk to their kids, are better at regulating screen time.”

“Using the word ‘screen’ to describe a child’s need for electronics is a misnomer. They need attention, they need guidance, they need parental control, and they need family time.”

Dr Lekach said it was important for parents to think about the experiences they were providing for their children and to use screen time for positive outcomes, such as teaching them to pay attention in class or building up their vocabulary.

For children with neurological conditions like autism, Dr Levine added that there was also a strong association between excessive screen time and unhealthy body image.

The increased risk of overeating and poor eating habits could be partially due to the lack of quality playtime and interactions at home, according to the authors.

Parents also need to be aware of how their behaviour is affecting their child’s well-being.

“Many parents would do well to refer to the literature and acknowledge there are benefits to encouraging children’s well-being and curiosity online, but at the same time parents have to be aware that there are negative consequences to ‘cutting down’ on screen time,” said Dr Levine.

Although screen time has increased in children throughout the US and around the world, the behaviour has not changed – with parents taking it seriously when they see their kids are spending more time watching a computer or video game.

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