How does screen time affect my child's eyes?

Mom I'm bored...can I play on your phone? Pleeeaassee?!

We have all heard this familiar whine and question, multiple times in a day sometimes. As parents we need to understand that the phone is not just easy entertainment for our children, but can also have adverse affects to their visual development. According to the Vision Council 72% of American parents report that their children ages 4 and up spend more than 2 hours per day looking at screens, with teens on their devices an astounding 9+ hours per day! Too much screen time (phone, tablet, computer, video games) can lead to problems with headaches, excessive eyestrain, fatigue, blurry distance vision, eye dryness and burning.

Below are some guidelines recently revised by the American Academy of Pediatrics for screen time that is safe for children:

  • 18 months and younger: no screen time is still best. The exception is live video chat with family and friends.
  • 18 months to 2 years: limit screen time and avoid solo use. Choose high-quality programming, and watch with kids to ensure understanding.
  • 2 to 5 years: limit screen time to an hour a day. Parents should watch as well to ensure understanding and application to their world.
  • 6 or older: place consistent limits on the time spent and types of media. Don’t let screen time affect sleep, exercise or other behaviors.

Your child is spending more time in front of a screen than with, what do you do? The following are our top 6 tips for helping you and your child manage eye problems arising from excessive screen use:

  1. Follow the 20/20 Rule – For every 20 minutes you are on the computer, look at something far way (20 ft or beyond) for at least 20 seconds. That doesn't mean stare up close for 5 hours and then look away for 5 minutes. The frequency of the break is just as important as its length.
  2. While staring at screens, your blink rate is reduced by 50%. In other words, when you are concentrating at something up close for a while, you forget to blink. This causes excessive tear evaporation which can result in dry eye and irritation. Remind yourself to blink. Consider using lubricating tears or having a humidifier in the room where you spend the most time on the devices.
  3. Set limits on Screen time. Set a timer on the device to remind you child when they have to stop and take a break. Set up device free zones like bedrooms and the dinner table when your eating where no one is allowed to be on their devices. Don't let your child sleep with their devices and implement a no device rule for at least 1 hour before bedtime.
  4. Practice good visual ergonomics. In other words, sit up when you read, make sure you have good light, never lay down and read. Remind your child to hold their device a little further out, at 18-20 inches if possible. This will help reduce visual strain as well as whole body fatigue.
  5. Encourage your children to go outside and play. The American Pediatric Association recommends at least 1 hour of physical exercise daily for all children.
  6. Don't forget your child's annual eye exam! This is the perfect time to have your Optometrist ally with you on how you can specifically help your child limit their screen time. An annual eye exam can also help detect risk factors for visual impairment such as focusing problems, nearsightedness, dry eye and lazy eye.

You may not be able to completely dissociate your child from their devices but, by implementing some of the above advice, you can help them live in a world where they are more comfortable and healthier while using them for a long time to come.