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How Too Much Screen Time Can Affect Your Child’s Eyes

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A cropped image of a young child wearing jeans and a dark denim button-up shirt, playing on a tablet in their lap, while sitting cross-legged on an orange couch

With technology constantly evolving, it’s easy to see that screens and devices are evolving alongside us. They’ve become an integral part of how we interact with each other, education, leisure activities, and more. But with great power comes great responsibility, so learning how to manage screen time and being aware of its potential effects on our vision are important concepts to grasp as soon as possible to protect your child by getting regular eye exams.

For example, you may have heard of “blue light” and how it can be harmful to our eyes, however, did you know that blue light is everywhere, even when you’re out and about in nature? This is why it’s important to learn how to manage exposure and usage, rather than avoiding it altogether, because much like nature, screens are here to stay.

Let’s go through some key information about the importance of responsible screen time.

What is Screen Time?

In a nutshell, screen time is the amount of time that an individual spends in front of any screen, be it a laptop, smartphone, iPad, or any other device. Depending on the age of the device, different technology will exist for backlighting the screen itself.

In recent years, LED has become a more popular and efficient technology in enabling people to use their devices in varying lighting conditions. With this technological advancement, there are also potential drawbacks in regards to our vision, as screens have become brighter (to mimic daylight), and last longer, allowing us to be in front of them for longer periods of time. This may eventually pose some risks to our overall eye health and is especially important to monitor with our children.

When is it Too Much?

Although there are no specific rules for how much screen time is good or bad for a child, there are definitely some recommendations based on age. It’s also important to note that there isn’t a “one size fits all” approach as every child is different in the way that they interact with screens and devices.

Some general guidelines for time are: 

  • 0-18 months: Try to focus on play, reading, and parent-child interaction instead of screen time.
  • 18-24 months: A little bit of screen time geared towards educational and quality content.
  • 2-5 years: Allow for recreational screen time, about 1 hour per weekday and up to 3 hours per weekend day.
  • Older than 5: No specific time restrictions, however, monitor whether or not screen time is interfering with learning, relationships, physical activity, sleep, etc.

Potential Side Effects

Over the years, the incidence of nearsightedness in adults and children has been increasing steadily, posing the question: Is technology to blame?

The short answer is, we aren’t entirely sure. However, when it comes to the effects of screens on our vision, they have been shown to cause dry eye, eye strain, headaches, and blurry vision. Although these side effects typically are temporary, it’s best not to overdo it if possible.

Whenever possible, try to teach the importance of screen time management techniques to your children, and for more specific assistance, consult your eye doctor for more information as needed. 

A mother and her daughter sitting and looking at a tablet together while smiling

Setting Limits & Other Management Techniques

Setting a time limit may seem like the obvious answer to too much screen time, but may be the most straightforward method for helping to prevent digital eye strain and other side effects.

However, this may be easier said than done with your children, so here are a few additional techniques to help:

  • Avoid using a computer outside or in brightly lit areas, as the glare may contribute to eye strain.
  • When reading e-books, use the “bookmark” function every few chapters to remind your child to look up and take a break.
  • Adjust the brightness and contrast of screens to a comfortable level.
  • Promote good posture and proper desk ergonomics whenever possible.
  • Encourage your child to hold digital media farther away, ideally 18 to 24 inches.
  • Remind them of the importance of blinking often when using digital devices.
  • 20-20-20 Rule: After looking at a screen for 20 minutes, look up and focus on an object roughly 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.

These techniques may be helpful in managing screen time and exposure for your children If good habits are established early, certain eye conditions may not even develop or progress in the future. Meeting with an eye care professional may also be helpful in terms of creating an action plan for your family that best suits your lifestyle needs. 

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  • Written by Myles Bokinac

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