Parents are often all too familiar with the battle around devices. If your children love screens, they’re among the majority of kids today. This has probably made you wonder how much viewing time is okay, as well as wondering, “does screen time affect vision?” Considering that kids from ages two to eight spend an average of between 42 minutes and three hours per day staring at the TV, iPad, cell phone or other digital devices, this is something worth considering.
Here’s our insight into how much screen time for kids is okay, and whether reducing screen time is a key part of how to improve kids eyesight.
The Effects of Screen Time
The American Academy of Ophthalmology shared that myopia (nearsightedness) has become a global epidemic, with the rate in the U.S alone having almost doubled in the last 50 years. However, the same article states that “it remains unclear whether the rise in nearsightedness is due to focusing on phones all the time.”
Although researchers don’t know yet conclusively whether screen time is a primary contributor to the rise in myopia rates (or other vision problems), there’s no denying some of the more temporary effects. Just like anybody else who looks at a digital device for a period of time, children are susceptible to immediate adverse effects of too much screen time. For one, they may experience eye strain. They may also suffer from dry eyes since people tend to blink less often when they’re viewing something on a device.
If your child does spend more than 15 minutes on a device at a time, teach them the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes, they should look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds before resuming their screen time. This will give their eyes a break, and allow them to refocus. Also, remind them to blink when they’re watching something, and use lubricating eye drops if recommended by your doctor.
What about Blue Light?
One of the main problems with excessive device viewing is the blue light that computers and other devices emit. Blue light is important in regulating our body’s circadian rhythms, which help us establish healthy sleep patterns. But it’s well documented that too much exposure to blue light at the wrong time of day can disrupt a person's normal sleep/wake cycle, and even cause serious health consequences.
The AAO’s article about screen time and vision mentioned above even postulates that the increase in worldwide myopia could be due to such “light interacting with our circadian rhythms to influence eye growth.” But, this link has not been conclusively established yet either.
Even so, it’s wise for parents to limit screen time and especially enforce cut-off times, so blue light won’t interfere with children’s sleep cycles. Most experts recommend turning off devices at least two hours before bedtime, which is a good rule of thumb if you’re not sure where to start. Also, decide as a family how much screen time is appropriate for your child, based on their age, the available research and how your child, in particular, seems to be affected by their viewing habits.
As far as how to improve kids eyesight goes, no one knows for sure how damaging screen time really is. But we can all work together to stay on top of the research, and take our children to annual eye exams in order to stay in tune with their eye health. There are several options in eyewear available like blue light filtering lenses and lenses that help with eye strain while on devices. Your eyecare provider can help determine if these will be helpful for your kids (and you). Contact us to learn more about kids and vision, or to schedule an eye exam for you or your child.