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Screen time and children's vision: managing digital device usage to minimize eye strain


In an increasingly technology driven world, watching and learning from screens is an inevitable daily occurrence for all children. They are surrounded by screens both in school and personal settings; and while there are benefits to all the advanced technology they are introduced to, it is important to consider the safety and overall health of their eyes as they engage in screen time.

One of the buzziest topics when it comes to parenting and children, screen time is probably a subject you have heard many opinions about. You might be wondering, does being in front of a screen affect a child’s eyes? If so, how? How long should a child be in front of a screen? What can I do to help ensure their vision health?

Here at Brookside Optometric Group, we are dedicated to the continuous well-being of all our patients and the necessary education that can assist in maintaining optical health.

Extended use of digital screens, like computers, tablets, smartphones, televisions, and play pads can have many potential physical impacts on a child’s eyes. Here are some possible physical ramifications to consider when it comes to prolonged screen time:

  1. Dry Eyes: When looking at screens, it is typical for children to blink less which can ultimately cause the eyes to dry and become irritated
  2. Digital Eye Strain: Spending hours in front of screens can cause computer vision syndrome, which is also known as digital eye strain. Symptoms can include dryness, redness, itching, discomfort and possible blurred vision
  3. Eye Fatigue and Discomfort: Looking at screens for long periods of time also causes the eyes to stay in a prolonged strained state which will ultimately lead to fatigue and possible pain
  4. Headaches: With the amount of strain put on the eyes during long bouts of screen time, it can cause frequent headaches
  5. Sleep Disruptions: Exposure to screens, particularly before bedtime, can interfere with sleep patterns due to the suppression of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles
  6. Myopia: Also known as nearsightedness, some recent studies are looking into and suggesting a correlation between prolonged screen time and myopia, particularly in children

In a world where screen time is so prevalent, one of the most important things to know as a child’s guardian is the appropriate amount of time your child can spend around screens. Take a look at the guide below to see the recommendations of time allotted to screens based on your child’s age.

  • Infants (0-18 months):

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding the use of screens for children younger than 18 months

  • Toddlers (18-24 months):

    Very limited screen time with high-quality, educational content. Parents or caregivers should watch the content with the child to help them understand and engage better

  • Preschoolers (2-5 years):

    Limit screen time to 1 hour per day of high-quality, educational programs. Again, it is recommended that parents or caregivers should be actively involved in choosing and discussing the content

  • School-Age Children (6-12 years):

    The AAP suggests setting consistent limits on the amount of screen time, ensuring it doesn't interfere with sleep, physical activity, and other healthy behaviors. The focus should be on balancing screen time with other activities, such as outdoor play and social interactions

  • Teenagers (13-18 years):

    The AAP encourages parents to set consistent and reasonable limits on screen time. The emphasis should be on promoting healthy behaviors and ensuring that screen time doesn't adversely affect sleep, physical activity, or academic performance

Keep in mind that these are general guidelines, and individual circumstances and needs may vary based on your child and their personal/educational circumstance.

Parental involvement and open communication about screen time habits are crucial for maintaining a healthy balance between screen use and other activities. In order to minimize the negative effects caused by prolonged digital interaction, here are some tips to keep in mind when it comes to assisting your child with their vision health:

  1. Limit screen time: be aware of what your optometrist and pediatrician recommend for age-appropriate limits on screen time for your child. Encourage and monitor frequent breaks from all digital devices
  2. Implement the 20-20-20 Rule: If your child does need to be on a device for longer periods of time, encourage them to take a 20 second break, every 20 minutes while using the device and have them look at something 20 feet away. This is a great way to help reduce eye strain
  3. Proper Placement of the Screen: Ensuring that any screen is at an appropriate distance from your child’s eyes is key. Make sure that the top of the screen is at or just below eye level during their viewing
  4. Cut Down on Blue Light Exposure: Blue light has a shorter wavelength and higher energy compared to other visible light colors, which makes it more powerful and it can penetrate all the way into the retina. Consider purchasing your child a pair of blue light protective glasses or putting a blue light shield on all the devices
  5. Attend Regular Eye Exams: Schedule regular eye examinations with your optometrist to help monitor your child’s eye health and detect any possible vision problems early on
  6. Lead by Example: Try and do all the above suggestions above yourself. Children watch their caretakers closely and if you practice healthy screen time practices, that will help them to do so as well

By promoting a healthy balance between screen time and other activities, you can help protect your children's eyes and overall well-being in this digital era. A true understanding and awareness of how screens can affect your child’s vision health, will also better help you as you navigate the coming years of necessary screen involvement.

If you have specific concerns about your child's eye health, let our doctors know. At Brookside Optometric Group, we understand the unique needs of our younger patients and we are here to help you as parents, too. If you are concerned about how screens are affecting your child, we offer specialized exams tailored to children, using techniques and testing options that make the experience as comfortable as possible. Together we will make sure your child’s vision is as protected and as healthy as possible while interacting with screens.


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