The effect of screen time on children’s eyes

The impacts and ways to manage them

By Dr. Giovanna Olivares, OD, FAAO; Johnson & Johnson Vision Care Director & Staff Writer

Let’s face it, screen time has become ubiquitous in today’s digital era. Children in particular have a unique relationship with digital devices. They learn from them, are entertained by them, interact with their friends with them, and more. In short, they grow up dependent on them for a wide variety of needs.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages 8-18 now get 7.5 hours of screen time on average each day for entertainment alone, not including the time they spend on the computer at school for educational purposes or at home for homework. Over the course of year, that adds up to 114 full days.1 While there are many upsides, too much screen time can lead to various eye problems and affect the overall health of a child's eyes.

The impact of screen time on children's eye health

  • Eye strain

When we stare at screens, we blink up to 60% less. This may disrupt a child’s natural tear film and can result in discomfort, dry eyes, headaches, and blurred vision. Staring at a digital device for a prolonged period of time may also put strain on the focusing system of their eyes, leading to eye fatigue and headaches.

  • Myopia

Also known as nearsightedness, it is a condition where the eyes grow too long, causing objects far away appear blurry and increasing the risk of eye complications later in life.

  • Disrupted sleep

Blue-violet light emitted from electronic devices can interfere with the body’s natural sleep cycle by suppressing melatonin levels at the wrong time of day, making it difficult for children to fall asleep.

Six ways to help protect children’s eye health

1. Limit screen time

It’s not easy to do, but it’s recommended that parents should limit their children’s screen time to 1-2 hours a day.

2. Take breaks

Eyes focus using tiny muscles. It can help give those muscles a rest by looking away from the screen every 20-30 minutes.

3. Adjust screen settings

Brightness and contrast can be an easy thing to forget about, but too much or too little can strain the eyes. The idea is to make sure the text stands out from the background and try to match the light coming from the monitor to the surroundings.2 Finally, ensure that the screen is at an appropriate distance from the eyes, typically at least 20 inches away.

4. Use blue-violet light filters

Consider installing blue light filters on electronic devices to reduce the amount of blue light that reaches the eyes. Sometimes there are settings on devices that can help. There are also glasses that filter blue-violet light that can be used with digital devices.

5. Encourage outdoor activities

Research shows that spending at least two hours a day outside can help reduce myopia onset or slow its progression.3

6. Establish a pre-bed routine

At least an hour before bedtime, put the digital devices away. The mental and visual demands of things like television, video games and social media can prevent your child from falling asleep or staying asleep.

7. Schedule regular eye exams

Regular checkups can help detect any eye problems early on and create a treatment plan.

Though screen time for children has become the norm, by following these tips, you can help protect your children's eyes from things like digital eye strain and other eye issues.

See More Tips

About the author

Giovanna E. Olivares, OD, FAAO

About the author

Giovanna E. Olivares, OD, FAAO is the Global Director, Specialty Platforms Research & Development, at Johnson & Johnson Vision Care (JJVC). In this role, she is responsible for overseeing the strategy, design, and development of new products to support the company’s global Astigmatism and Presbyopia platforms. In 2017 under her leadership, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, launched ACUVUE® Oasys 1-Day with Hydroluxe® for Astigmatism and ACUVUE® Vita® for Astigmatism to meet our patients’ needs. In 2021, her team launched ACUVUE® OASYS MULTIFOCAL with PUPIL OPTIMIZED design. Recently in September, 2022, she launched ACUVUE® OASYS MAX MULTIFOCAL for presbyopia patients. Dr. Olivares joined Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc. in 2004 as Sr. Manager of the R&D Design Clinical Research Group. In this role, she led a multidisciplinary group including Optometrists, Ophthalmologists, Vision Scientists, and Biostatisticians responsible for the development of new innovative contact lens products and clinical methodology. Under her leadership, the group launched several brands including ACUVUE® ADVANCE for ASTIGMATISM, ACUVUE® OASYS for ASTIGMATISM, and 1-DAY ACUVUE® MOIST for ASTIGMATISM. Under her leadership, the first validated patient questionnaire for JJVC was developed, CLUE (Contact Lens User Experience). In 2010, she was appointed to the position of Director of Professional Education, responsible for developing innovative educational programs across the spectrum of students, eye care professionals, Professional Affairs Consultants, and the company’s Sales & Marketing organizations. Prior to joining Johnson & Johnson Vision, Dr. Olivares served as the Director of Clinical and Professional Development for Unilens Corp. USA, where she developed contact lens designs for presbyopia. Additionally, she has practiced in an ophthalmology practice, private optometric practice, retail optometry, and as a technical medical consultant at TLC, a center for LASIK surgery. Dr. Olivares received her BS degree from the University of Rochester and her OD degree from the State University of New York (SUNY). She subsequently completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Ocular Disease management at the SUNY College of Optometry. After her fellowship, she joined the SUNY faculty as an Assistant Professor with clinical and didactic teaching responsibilities in the areas of contact lenses, ocular disease, pediatric/binocular vision, and primary care. Dr. Olivares is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry, has authored numerous scientific articles and has lectured internationally on contact lens technology and fitting for success.

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References:

  1. Screen Time vs. Lean Time Infographic. Sourced from: https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/multimedia/infographics/getmoving.html
  2. Best monitor settings for eyes. Sourced from: https://www.eyeque.com/knowledge-center/best-monitor-settings-for-eyes/
  3. Wu PC, Chen CT, Lin KK, et al. Myopia Prevention and Outdoor Light Intensity in a School-Based Cluster Randomized Trial. Ophthalmology 2018;125:1239-50.

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