Research shows that children are spending more time than ever using digital screens. Exposure to digital screens starts as young as 6 months old, and by the time your child reaches their teen years, studies have found that they are spending as much as 7 hours a day using digital screens.
Screen time can have a serious impact on your child’s wellbeing, development and eye health. To protect your child, limit their exposure to screens and get their eyes examined regularly.
Eye Problems Caused by Excessive Screen Time
Too much screen time can lead to many different eye conditions and vision problems including:
Eye Fatigue and Digital Eye Strain
Prolonged use of digital screens requires a lot of focus from the eye. If your child is not taking enough breaks away from the screen, it can cause eye fatigue or digital eye strain. This condition usually results in mild to severe eye pain and headaches but can also cause blurry vision after looking away from the screen.
If your child spends too much time looking at a computer screen, or an object at the same distance, for too long, it can cause their eye’s focusing system to weaken, causing blurry vision.
Blurry vision can get in the way of daily life activities and can lead to further vision problems if left untreated.
Dry or Irritated Eyes
Dry or irritated eyes are caused when the eye doesn’t get enough moisture and may be due to not blinking enough. Studies show that people blink significantly less than they are supposed to when looking at a screen for an extended period.
Spending too long doing nearsighted activities, such as looking at a TV, computer or other digital screens, may increase a child’s risk of developing myopia.
Myopia is a common eye condition that can develop in early childhood. If your child suffers from myopia, they will be able to see objects near to them clearly but have difficulty viewing objects that are further away.
Common Symptoms of Too Much Screen Time
Monitor your child’s screen time and always check to see if your child is experiencing any of the following symptoms after screen use:
- Sore, tired or burning eyes
- Watery eyes
- Dry eyes
- Complaints of blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty concentrating
- Complaints of headaches
- Squinting, closing one eye or tilting their head to focus on an object
If you notice these symptoms in your child, they may be suffering from a screen-related vision problem and should have their eyes examined.
How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?
The World Health Organization (WHO) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following screen time guidelines based on your child’s age:
- 0-2 Years: It is best to avoid introducing screens at all during this period of your child’s development. If video calling is important for your child’s social wellbeing, a minimal amount of screen time is acceptable
- 2-5 Years: At this age, your child should receive no more than 1 hour per day of supervised screen time
- 5-18 Years: For school-aged children, the topic of screen time becomes a bit more complicated as required screen time may vary depending on your child’s education style, development and personal needs. For these ages, CAO recommends limiting recreational screen time to 2 hours per day
What Can You Do?
Monitor Screen Time and Schedule Frequent Breaks
Children often don’t notice or report the symptoms of vision-related issues simply because they may not recognize them. This is why it is important for you as a parent to monitor their screen time and symptoms.
To control screen time, we suggest:
- Set timers to limit screen time
- Follow the 20/20/20 rule (take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes, to focus the eyes on something at least 20 feet away)
- Reward your child for taking screen breaks- don’t make taking breaks a punishment!
Pay Attention to Screen Positioning
Being too close to a screen can be dangerous for your child’s eyes. You should encourage your child to:
- View mobile phones at a distance of one foot
- View desktop devices and laptops at two feet
- View TV screens at 10 feet
In addition to adjusting screen positioning and distance, you can also adjust room lighting to avoid glare, make the font size bigger and increase screen brightness on your child’s devices to prevent eye fatigue.
Remind Your Child to Blink
Blinking slows significantly when looking at a screen and can lead to eye irritation or dry eye, and if left untreated can cause serious long-term eye conditions. Reminding your child to blink may seem simple, but it can lower their chances of developing dry eye syndrome and more serious vision problems.
Schedule Routine Eye Exams for Your Child
Because your child’s growth and eyesight are always changing, the best preventative measure you can take is by scheduling regular annual eye exams for your child.