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A new study has suggested several simple practical steps, including reducing passive screen time and news consumption, can promote resilience against mental health problems in children of the family during pandemic.

The findings of the study were published in the open-access journal “PLOS ONE” by a team of Havard University in the US led by Maya Rosen.

In the study, researchers recruited participants from two on-going longitudinal studies of children and adolescents in the greater Seattle area. Some 224 children, adolescents and their caregivers completed an initial questionnaire assessing social behaviours, psychopathology and pandemic-related stressors in April and May, 2020. Of them, some 184 completed a similar battery of assessments six months later, in November, 2020 through January, 2021.

Since data on each youth was available from prior to the pandemic, results at each time point could be controlled for pre-pandemic symptoms.

The youth ranged in age from 7 to 15 years old, were 47.8 per cent female, and their racial and ethnic background reflected the Seattle area, with 66 per cent of participants White, 11 per cent Black, 11 per cent Asian and 8 per cent Hispanic or Latino.

The number of pandemic-related stressors was strongly associated with increases in both internalising and externalising symptoms during the pandemic after controlling for pre-pandemic symptoms.

During the initial period of the pandemic, children and adolescents who spent less time on digital devices, as well as those who consumed less than 2 hours of news per day, had lower externalising symptoms, while greater time spend in nature was marginally associated with lower internalising symptoms.

Getting the recommended amount of sleep (b=0.-0.158, p=.080) and having a more structured daily routine during stay-at-home orders (b=-0.164, p=.049) was associated with lower levels of externalising psychopathology six months later.

Finally, the strong association between pandemic-related stressors and psychopathology was absent among children with lower amounts of screen time and news media consumption.

The study also identified a set of strategies that can be beneficial to families when considering how to support the mental health of their children during the on-going Covid-19 pandemic.

The authors said, “Mental health problems increased dramatically among children and adolescents during the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly among those who experienced high levels of pandemic-related stressors including serious illness or death of a family member, significant financial loss, and social isolation.”

A number of simple strategies families engaged in appeared to promote better mental health during the pandemic including having a structured daily routine, limiting passive screen time use, limiting exposure to news media about the pandemic, and to a lesser extent spending more time in nature, and getting the recommended amount of sleep, the authors added.

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