Use of screens and digital media among children has dramatically increased over the past several years. Further, usage of electronic devices like iPods and mobile phones has been starting earlier in childhood, prompting many studies investigating health implications.
From the possible damage to their eyes to the effect on a child’s attention span and physical fitness, screen time has been critiqued in recent years. Increased time spent looking at screens has been associated with a higher risk for obesity, decreased sleep quality, cognitive & social skill delays and poorer school performance.
It’s no surprise that screen time can affect physical health and fitness, but what about the effects on eye sight?
What is “screen time”?
Screen time is a relatively new term that refers to the time someone spends looking at a screen. This can include TVs, computers, tablets, video games, handheld games and smartphones. As digital devices increase in prominence when it comes to both entertainment and within schools, it’s natural for screen time to increase. But with the unknown and sometimes negative effects on eyesight, it’s something that should be monitored closely.
Dangers of excess screen time
There are a few significant issues that can arise from too much time looking at a screen. Aside from concerns regarding posture and brain development, a child’s eyes can be at risk for a number of problems.
The most common one has been named digital eye strain. If your child is displaying signs of irritated, itchy, dry or red eyes or complaining of a headache while looking at a screen they may be suffering from this issue. It comes from looking at the ‘blue light’ emitted by digital screens for too long. While there has been evidence that shows a link between this blue light exposure and macular degeneration, the long-term effects are still being studied.
Dry eyes are another very significant concern when it comes to excessive screen time. Humans usually blink about 15 times per minute. But when staring at a screen they will often blink half that often which can cause eyes to become dry, itchy and irritated very quickly.
How to combat digital eye strain
The easiest way to combat digital eye strain and general tired, bothered eyes is to follow the 20-20-20 rule. This means having your child take a 20 second break every 20 minutes while looking at something 20 feet away. This can help stimulate them to blink to restore moisture, and help give their neck and back a break from a likely uncomfortable position.
Ways to combat excessive screen time
Take a regular break Regular breaks should include physical movement and occur every 30-60 minutes.
Suggest heading outside Spending time outside, away from screens, helps eyes recover and can help stimulate imagination and physical fitness. It is also thought that the increased appearance of myopia (nearsightedness) is linked to kids spending less time outside.
Avoid using a screen one hour before bedtime Limiting blue light before bed can help kids wind down and have a more stable sleep cycle.
Limit screen time Depending on the age of your child, you can limit their screen time to help combat any potential issues as they grow.
Position the computer to avoid eye strain When kids are on a computer the top of the screen should be at eye level or slightly below to reduce strain on the neck.
Take your child for regular eye exams
The easiest way to track any potential eye health concerns in relation to screen time is to ensure you are taking your child in for regular eye exams. Kids of school age should be going in every year for their check up. Your eye doctor will be able to note and keep an eye on any possible concerns, and help give you tips on how to balance screen time and eye health.