Pandemic planning

In a time of Covid, families are spending more time together, resulting in better mental health. Activities like hiking, camping or going to museums, like the Fairbanks Children's Museum, are helping keep families healthy this year. 

Did you know that our youths’ screen time has increased 66% during COVID-19? Forty-nine percet of our kids spend six hours or more a day on screen time, a 500% increase from last year.

These statistics come from an article in Psychology Today that also talks about good screen time and bad. If it is educational and learning, say school or watching how-to videos, this is good screen time. Socializing and discussing what is happening brings a sense of interaction to it and making it a good thing. However, binging on Netflix all day is not a good thing.

I was surprised to find an article about a survey conducted by the Institute for Family Studies, which concluded that teens’ mental health is actually better during COVID because they are spending more time with their families. Researchers surveyed 1,523 U.S. teens during May-July of 2020, asking about numerous things. They found that levels of depression and loneliness were actually lower among teens in 2020 than in 2018. There are two possible reasons why: Teens were sleeping more and spending more time with their families.

A study published in Scientific Reports found that youth in Germany ages 4-17 increased their screen time during a COVID lockdown. The study looked at males and females in four age groups and compared sports activities, all other physical activities, such as biking, walking and playing, and screen time. In all ages, sports activities decreased while screen time increased. We all can understand that. However, something of interest is that all other physical activity increased in all ages, but more so in the younger age groups. The older age groups’ screen time increased more drastically and more so in males than females.

We all know that sports decreased because of the lockdown and that screen time increased, but did the younger kids’ overall activity increase because their families were taking them outside for activities? If so, we need to look at how to engage our older youth when sports are not happening. Also, when the pandemic is over, we still need to keep our younger youth active and moving. Good habits formed while young go a long way as we grow older.

I share these statistics with you in hopes to enlighten us about our youth and their mental, social and physical activities and how they have been affected during this past year. We all know that too much screen time is not a good thing, so we should make sure that the screen time our youth is getting is quality time. Limit them to a certain amount of time for recreational screen time. I worry because I saw kids who struggled with social interactions before the pandemic and I wonder how it will be as we come out of it. However, I have found other things that have made me happy as I have done research. 

As families, we have grown closer with our youth during this year, as we were in a sense forced to be with each other. What did we do? What did we learn about each other? How did we connect? Did you find yourself being creative and doing more things with your youth/family than before? This is a great thing to continue as we come out of the pandemic. We probably are talking more with our youth than before. Keep it going. Less negative impact from peers has hopefully helped and we should keep our lines of communication open so that our youth can talk with us as they head back to school. Some good can come from this pandemic, so let’s make it happen.

Last year our 4-H Council hosted an activity challenge and we had over 100 participants in it. ATVs, kayaks, bikes and outdoor recreation equipment were hard to find. As families we were recreating together and having a good time. Let’s not be a statistic with more screen time than physical activity.

 Our families are stronger, let’s keep it that way. I have more hope after writing this than when I went in as I was thinking it would be a different outcome. Keep connecting with your families and get active now and this summer.

4-H is a youth organization for youth K-12 that helps youth learn about certain items of interest to them, but also teaches them life skills. 4-H has a club structure with leaders who are adult volunteers with current background checks. To learn more about the local program, contact Marla Lowder, Tanana District 4-H agent, at 474-2427. You can also check out our web page at www.alaska4h.org/fairbankstanana-district.html. 4-H is a part of the Cooperative Extension Service of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.