More than ever children are staring at digital screens and parents are unaware of the effects it has on their eyes.
Children as young as 6 months old start viewing digital devices and into their teenage years, they are using screens for an average of 7 hours a day (watching TV, social media, video games) and even more screen-time at school and completing homework (leading up to 11 hours daily).
Several studies have shown an increase in screen time per day to be associated with poor sleep quality, obesity, developmental outcomes, premature thinning of the cortex, low cognitive skills and poor eye development. A group of researchers in Canada found preschoolers to have an 8-fold increase in ADHD who had used two hours or screen time a day.
This is a summary of scientific research that can guide parents to understand how much screen time is adequate and the effects of use on their children’s eyes.
· The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no digital media (except for video-chatting) in children 18–24 months, focusing on educational media when children do start using screens
· The World Health Organization suggests no screen time at all for children before age 1; Age 2–5 should have no more than 1 hour of sedentary screen time and ideally accompanied with “co-watching” engaged adult
· Stetson University in Florida found that teenagers (age 12–18) using total screen time of 6 or less hours a day were not significantly impacted in areas of grades, fitness level, mental health or propensity for risky behavior (date from 6089 participants)
· The global increase in nearsightedness has increased dramatically in 30 years partly due to increased screen-time and viewing things up-close for an extended amount of time
· Spending time outdoors in early childhood can slow progression of nearsightedness (myopia)
What are the harmful effects of increased screen time?
· Too much time indoors can lead to myopia — exposure to natural daylight is critical for development of the eyes and vision along with increase physical activity is beneficial for their health
· Digital eye strain can result which is a combination of headaches, dry, itchy, and irritated eyes, fatigued eyes, inability to focus vision up-close, inability to view clearly in the distance after extended amount of up-close viewing
· Blue light from screens is significantly less than the blue light experiences outdoors on a sunny day however children’s eyes due absorb more blue light than adults and can be disrupting children’s sleep cycle
What are some helpful tips for children’s screen-time and eye comfort? (As recommended from the American Academy of Ophthalmology)
· Follow the 20–20–20 rules: every 20 minutes of screen-time, look at least 20 feet away (use the distance vision) for 20 seconds, to give the eye muscles a break
· Follow the 20–20–20 rule when reading as well
· Pre-mark/bookmark books with a paperclip or note to remind the child to look up or take a break
· Adjust brightness on screens for improved comfort
· Avoid poor posture when viewing screens, poor posture can lead to headaches
· Encourage holding screens 18–24 inches away from their face
· Remind children to blink often when watching a screen
· Keep children up-to-date with their eye and vision exams, first at 6 months or age, age 1, age 3, and every year once the child is in school and sooner if any symptoms and signs of eye and vision issues
Many recommendations to limit screen time is not based on the idea that screens are harmful for children but instead to promote increased physical activity and outside play. We know that children primarily learn from playing, moving, walking, talking, and watching other humans and the problem with screens can be their addictive nature that prevents children from observing the world and reducing social skills.