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.
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.
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- Screen Time vs. Lean Time Infographic. Sourced from: https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/multimedia/infographics/getmoving.html
- Best monitor settings for eyes. Sourced from: https://www.eyeque.com/knowledge-center/best-monitor-settings-for-eyes/
- 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.