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  • Writer's pictureAtanas Bogoev M.D. and Maria Cholakova

Screen Time and Children's Eye Health: How to Protect Your Child's Vision?

Updated: Aug 4, 2023

As a parent, it is only natural to have concerns about the amount of screen time your child is getting and how it could be affecting their eye health. Living in a time where tech constantly evolves, many children are spending hours on digital devices every day, for various purposes. Including schoolwork, entertainment, and social interaction.

There is no better time to shed light on the topic than the Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month.

In this fast-paced, technology-driven world, it is essential for parents to understand the risks of prolonged screen time. As well as to learn how to protect their child's vision. Now, we are here to guide you and debunk the countless myths around the topic.

The Impact of Too Much Screen Time on Children's Eye Health

Excessive screen time has become a growing concern over the past few years. Particularly when it comes to its impact on the eye health of children.

Digital Eye Strain

One of the primary risks associated with excessive screen time is digital eye strain. The condition is also known as computer vision syndrome (CVS). CVS occurs when the eyes are subjected to extended periods of focusing on digital screens. Thus, causing discomfort, dryness, and eye fatigue.

The dry and uncomfortable sensation is often a result of insufficient blinking. Unlike reading from a physical book or engaging in non-screen activities, screen use tends to reduce the frequency of blinking. Therefore leading to inadequate tear production and subsequent dryness.

Furthermore, the constant demand on the eye muscles to maintain focus and track digital content takes a toll on the visual system. That's leaving the little ones with feelings of tiredness and irritation in their eyes.

Children may also experience headaches, blurry vision, and difficulty concentrating. These symptoms often tend to impact their overall well-being and academic performance.

digital eye strain in children

Disruption of Sleep Patterns

The impact of screens on children's sleep patterns is another critical aspect to consider. The blue light of digital devices may interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone responsible for regulating sleep-wake cycles.

Long-term exposure to blue light, especially in the evening or before bedtime, can lead to difficulty falling asleep, poor sleep quality, and, ultimately, sleep deprivation. A well-rested child is vital for their growth, development, and overall health, so addressing screen-related sleep disruption is crucial.

Children who consistently don't get enough sleep have heavy, tired, and achy eyes, and experience redness, dryness, puffiness, and dark circles. In some cases, sleep deprivation can trigger eye twitching, an involuntary spasm of the eyelid muscles.

Moreover, insufficient sleep impacts a child's visual acuity, making it challenging to see objects clearly. and affecting their ability to read or study. Let's not forget, poor sleep also weakens the immune system and can disrupt normal tear production, making children more susceptible to eye infections and dry eye.

sleep disturbance from screentime

VR and Children's Eye Health

Thanks to technological advancements, nowadays children are increasingly glued to screens, including smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions. Aside from that, the rise of virtual reality (VR) devices adds a new dimension to this issue.

Virtual reality, although an exciting and immersive technology, presents its own unique challenges to children's eye health. Comparing them to regular screens, VR experiences tend to tire the eyes out way faster. Excessive use of VR headsets can cause eye strain, dizziness, and even motion sickness, especially in younger children whose visual systems are still developing.

These negative effects are only temporary but may cause immense discomfort for a child after using the VR device for a long time.

Addressing Concerns, Finding Solutions

1. Setting Healthy Screen Time Limits

Parents should establish healthy screen time limits for their children as a proactive measure.

Please be aware, being overly strict and completely restricting screen time might lead to frustration and disconnection from the modern world. That's potentially depriving children of valuable learning experiences and social interactions, facilitated by technology.

Instead, parents should focus on fostering responsible and mindful screen usage. How? By engaging with their children, setting clear boundaries, and encouraging a diverse range of activities. It is vital to educate your little ones on digital literacy, without compromising eye health.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends children between the ages of 2 and 5 should have no more than one hour of screen time per day. In that hour, the emphasis should be on high-quality, educational content.

For older children, consistent limits should be set. Of course, after considering factors like recreation, schoolwork, and other responsibilities.

2. Encouraging Breaks

Encouraging children to take frequent breaks from digital devices plays a crucial role in alleviating digital eye strain. The 20-20-20 rule is an effective technique, recommended by optometrists, to relieve the symptoms of CVS.

The rule involves taking a break every 20 minutes and looking at an object 20 feet (6 meters) away for 20 seconds. Screen breaks give the eyes a chance to rest and refocus, reducing the risk of discomfort and fatigue.

3. Investing in Eye Protection

Considering the prevalence of digital devices in modern life, eye protection is considered a necessity. Blue light blocking glasses or screen filters can be somewhat effective in reducing exposure, and alleviating CVS symptoms. These accessories also help maintain the natural sleep-wake cycle and safeguard children's eyes during extended screen use periods.

4. Optimizing Screen Ergonomics

Proper screen positioning could minimize eye strain and promote good posture. Ideally, a large screen should be about arm's length away from the child's eyes. The top of the screen belongs at or just below eye level. Ensuring the screen is not too close or too high should reduce the strain on the eyes and neck muscles, and boost personal comfort.

5. Encouraging Outdoor Activities

Balancing screen time with outdoor activities prevents children from developing eye conditions and disorders. Spending time outdoors, especially in natural light, reduces myopia risk. Encourage your child to engage in outdoor play, sports, and other physical activities to promote overall well-being and support healthy vision.

6. Promoting Good Sleep Habits

Encourage a consistent sleep schedule and reduce screen time before bedtime. Try to shut off digital devices an hour before going to bed to promote better sleep quality! We understand that convincing a child to unplug can be tricky. So you need to be quite persuasive and open to discussion when educating and communicating about their eye health. After all, you don't want them to become sneaky in regard to screen time.

7. Regular Eye Check-ups

Lastly, do not miss the annual vision screenings for children and opt for regular eye check-ups.

Scheduling pediatric eye exams with an optometrist or ophthalmologist is vital for monitoring and addressing

potential vision issues. Early detection of refractive errors and eye problems allows for timely intervention and prevents significant complications in the future.

pediatric eye exam

Truth or Myth: Children can develop vision problems from excessive screen time?

Myth. There is a common belief children can develop long-term vision problems from excessive screen time. Contrary to popular opinion, the available research does not support this belief.

According to a publication in the Journal of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, there is evidence that prolonged screen time causes eye strain and discomfort. However, it does not appear to cause permanent eye damage in children. The study also notes more research is needed to fully understand the effects of screen time on children's eye health.

Similarly, the American Academy of Ophthalmology also acknowledges too much screen time leads to CVS and eye discomfort. But the organization also stresses that eye strain is temporary and does not cause irreversible eye damage. The AAO recommends frequent breaks when using digital devices to reduce the risk of associated eye strain symptoms.

While there may not be scientific evidence that screen time ruins a child's vision, excessive exposure to digital screens can have negative impacts on overall health and well-being. As we already mentioned, those include abnormal sleep patterns and sedentary behavior.

By addressing the real problems (CVS and sleep deprivation) and promoting healthy screen habits, parents can play a role in supporting their child's eye health, academic success, and overall well-being in today's digital age.

Checked by Atanas Bogoev, MD.

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