There have always been many reasons to set limits on your child’s screen time: outdoor play, healthy sleep habits and in-person social relationships. Eye health is another.
But with COVID-19 many children have no choice but to attend school through online learning and that means a lot more screen time.
If your student is experiencing any of the following eye problems due to being indoors and on screens, we can help.
Too much time indoors can lead to nearsightedness
The first problem is that screen time keeps children indoors. Being exposed to natural daylight is critical to developing eyes and overall eye health. Studies have found that children who spend more time indoors are more likely to develop nearsightedness or myopia. The exact cause isn’t yet known, but researchers believe that UV light (providing the eyes are protected from intense sunlight) plays an important role in healthy eye development. The rate of nearsightedness in children has increased dramatically in the past 30 years.
Another problem comes from the intensity with which kids focus on screen activity. Our eyes need breaks from close-up focus and children can lose track of time when they become absorbed.
Eyes get tired with prolonged close-focus attention, especially when the lighting around the screen causes glare and extra eye strain.
Dry and irritated eyes
Long stretches of screen time also cause the eyes to get dry and irritated. Studies show that people of all ages blink far less often when concentrating on a screen, which in turn causes the eyes to dry out. A clear and stable tear film on the surface of the eye is essential for clear vision. The problem can be worse for children who look up at a screen that is positioned for adult use.
Loss of focus flexibility
When their eyes stay focused close-up for long periods, children can also find it difficult to adjust to distance vision. That’s generally a short-term problem, and the eyes adjust back to their normal flexibility within a few hours or at most a few days.
Beyond the eyes: Impact on sleep
The other problem with screen time for kids is its effect on sleep. Research shows that the blue light from computer and device screens, when used in the evening, alters the brain’s sleep rhythms. The brain reads the screen light as “daytime” and shifts the body’s circadian rhythm. The exciting content of many video games and movies can also wind a child up when they should be winding down for bed or for a nap.
Help your child practice good eye habits
We encourage parents to teach their children the 20-20-20 rule when using a computer or other screen device. Every 20 minutes, look away from the screen for 20 seconds and focus on something at least 20 feet away. That’s a good practice for adults to follow, as well. If you set a timer, it can help your child remember.
Make sure the screen is positioned so that your child looks slightly down at it, not up. And adjust lighting to eliminate glare on the screen.
Have your child’s eyes examined
Make regular eye exams a part of your child’s healthcare schedule. You may be able to tell if your child’s eyes are tired or irritated, but it’s harder to tell if they are developing a vision problem. Only a comprehensive eye exam, by an eye doctor can reliably tell you that.