Is Too Much Screen Time Really Bad for My Kid’s Eyes?
According to a 2017 study from Common Sense Media, the average child eight years old or younger now spends two hours and 19 minutes every day looking at a screen. That number has more than tripled since the last time Common Sense Media conducted the study, just four years prior. Between smartphones, tablets, TVs, and computer screens—and between online video games, YouTube, and video streaming services—kids today are growing up in front of screens. There have been studies about what all this screen time means for mental development, social development, test scores, and more. Another important question to ask, though, is what staring at a screen for two-plus hours a day means for your child’s eye health and vision.
What Screen Time Means for Our Eyes
Digital devices that include screens produce their images in the form of something called “blue light”—rays of very high-energy visible light. Now, blue light isn’t necessarily “toxic” to a child’s eyes any more than it is harmful to the rest of us. Many, many people spend all day staring at screens for at work. These people aren’t losing vision because of their screens.
While we still don’t know the long-term impacts of blue light on retinal health, something that screen exposure does contribute to is digital eye strain, also sometimes referred to as computer vision syndrome. Have your eyes ever felt tired or slightly sore after spending a long time staring at a computer screen or reading on a phone? If so, you have experienced digital eye strain. Kids that are spending hours looking at screens every day are suffering this condition as well. Sometimes, digital eye strain can even lead to headaches, dry eyes, or, rarely, nausea.
By itself, digital eye strain is a good reason for parents to limit screen time for their kids. What experts can’t entirely agree on, though, is whether blue light will cause damage to a child’s eyes. Certainly, myopia (nearsightedness) has become a bigger problem in the United States and around the world since the birth of computers. Today, almost 50 percent of the United States population suffers from myopia. It is entirely possible that blue light and screen time have contributed to this rate. However, the American Academy of Ophthalmology has suggested that the rise of myopia has involved a more general increase in near work activities and a general decrease in time spent outside.
Why Limiting Screen Time for Your Kids Is a Good Idea
So, is screen time going to cause myopia or other eye problems for your child? Not necessarily, but that doesn’t mean blue light is good for your child’s eyes, either. As with everything, you should exercise moderation in allowing your children to watch TV or play cellphone games. A little screen time isn’t the end of the world. In fact, with how prevalent digital devices are becoming in the world of education, screen time is probably unavoidable. However, limiting the amount of time your children spend on screens—especially playing games or watching TV and movies—is definitely a good idea. Limiting your child to an hour of screen time a day, encouraging more frequent breaks, and stressing the importance of outdoor play are all things that will reduce your child’s risk of becoming myopic.
Finally, take the time to bring your child in for an eye exam. You can’t know if screen time (or anything else, for that matter) is impacting your child’s ocular health if you don’t have a baseline. An eye doctor can assess your child’s eye health and recommend strategies for maintaining it. At Miami Contact Lens Institute, we are happy to work with children. Call today to schedule an appointment for your son or daughter.