Technology and Our Children’s Eyesight - Facts & Myths

Sitting too close to the TV will damage your child’s eyes is a myth.

I grew up glued to the TV monitor watching cartoons. I remember my mom’s constant reminders to step away from the TV - “Don’t sit too close to the TV, it will hurt your eyes!”. I said the same thing to my kids. But now there is not just the TV I need to be worried about, it’s also the smartphone, the tablet, the computer, and more.

Are All of Those Screes Harming My Kids’ Eyes?

Starting with the TV, physicians at The Vision Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles say that sitting too close to the TV will damage your child’s eyes is a myth. “Sitting in front of the TV or a computer screen for four hours may hinder your child’s intellectual development but it will not damage their eyes,” notes Dr. Mark Borchert, division head of The Vision Center at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

He adds that “If a child is sitting too close to the TV or computer screen, it is probably because he/she needs glasses to see well. But, sitting very close to the screen will not cause them to need glasses”.

The concern about TV screens damaging young eyes originated in the 1960s when some early color TV sets were discovered to be emitting high amounts of X-rays. The problem was soon corrected and modern TV monitors, including older tube-type sets and new LCD models, are safe and do not emit any dangerous rays.

That’s good news, right?! Well…

Common Sense Media research has shown us that kids spend between 6 to 9 hours, and even more, a day on electronic devices. With that information in mind, Dr. Borchert notes that children can develop blurred vision, headaches and other problems when focusing too long on one object, in our case the computer monitor or any other screen for that matter. Long video game sessions may have adverse consequences such as reduced social interaction or less time doing homework, but they will not permanently damage the child’s eyes. However, the small screen may.

According to Jeff Taylor, M.D., Medical Director for YourSightMatters.com, at least 1 out of every 4 eye patients complains about eye strain due to reading text on a small screen. Fact is that we normally blink about 15 times per minute. This rate decreases by half when we are staring at our smartphone. Why? Because we tend to squint in-order to read these miniature screens, our facial, neck and shoulder muscles tighten, eyes become fatigued and vision can be blurred or strained. This series of symptoms is known as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).

Another issue is dry eyes, again not blinking will lead our eyes to dry. With children, it’s even more problematic and can increase the risk of pediatric dry eye disease (DED). The report published in BMC Ophthalmology revealed that children who spend more time on their phones will show more symptoms.

So what’s the answer, stop using our small devices and switching back to the TV? No.

Tips For Keeping Yours And Your Kids Eyes Safe

Enforce the 20/20/20 rule. Have your child (and you) take a 20-second break for every 20 minutes of screen time, stare at something at least 20 feet away. Best is to get up and stretch or just look out the window.

Avoid using your smartphone as a book, stop by the library to get the real deal. Prolong reading on your phone will not do you any good.

For the computer, make sure the screen is at eye level. Reduce screen glare by using a desk lamp with a dimmer so there isn’t a big contrast between the brightness of the screen and the room. Make sure your child can’t see her or his own reflection on the screen.

Go outside - same research that found the connection between screen time and DED also found that outdoor activity appeared to be protective against pediatric DED!

Lastly, if you notice that your or your child’s vision is changing but you follow the above tips and still the vision is not returning to normal, visit your eye doctor and share your concerns.

Tali Orad, Founder & CEO of Screen / Founder of B.E.CPR, Inc
Entrepreneur and engineer, but most importantly, a mom to a son and two daughters, little angels that were spending way too much time on their electronic devices. That’s what inspired Tali to create Screen and reconnect with her family.