Eye Health, Health & Wellness

Can Screen Time Damage Kids’ Eyes?

This is one of the most common questions I get from the parents of my patients. Their kid is gaming 7 hours in a row or watching YouTube videos endlessly – how much device time is bad for their eyes?

I get it. There have been many days in the past where I feel like I’m going to lose my sanity if I don’t have just 5 minutes to myself. This post isn’t about shaming any parent about the amount of screen time they allow their child. There is enough parent guilt already out there. At the end of the day, you have to do what keeps you sane, so that you can recharge. But, using screens as a consistent babysitting strategy is something I would advise against.

Here are the recommendations by the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmologists & Strabismus and the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Children under 24 months should not have ANY screen time

This includes a TV being on in the background as someone is caring for your child. Not even educational programming such as Baby Einstein, etc. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Children 2-5 years old should have a MAXIMUM of 1 hour of supervised screen time

This should be high quality educational content and should be watched together with the caregiver. Not just handing your child an iPad and letting them watch in their rooms. I’m guilty of this. More when my daughter was 5 years old, because she started kindergarten a year early, we allowed her to do things our boys did at that age. However, she was a year younger and we weren’t as mindful of that as we should have been.

Children older than 6 years old should have consistent limits placed on their screen time.

You may want to create a Family Media Plan so that you can develop a strategy that works for your family. It’s all about creating something that fits your family life and that you think is achievable. For our house, that means no device time at meals, nor on weekends.

So, why do we care how much IPad a kid does?

So, a new study demonstrates an link between UNSUPERVISED screen time in toddlers and decreased white matter in the brain, including areas of language processing. This can be because if kids are spending a lot of time on devices, they aren’t reading with their parent, playing outside, singing, etc – all the activities that do help language and white matter development.

There have also been associations with attentional problems and obesity and excessive screen time.

And, how does excessive screen time affect the eyes?

Dry eyes

Your blink rate is decreased when you read or are on a device. Our eyes depend upon an adequate tear film to lubricate the surface of the eyes and that relies upon a good blink to squeeze the tears out.

Blurry vision from accommodative spasm

With excessive near work, the muscles of focusing, accommodation, are working hard. If you don’t take breaks, then they can actually spasm, causing blurry vision. Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break, looking at something 20 feet away.

Headaches

Eye strain

But, there are some tips and tricks you can do to protect your children’s eyes while using a device.

  1. Set a timer – This is really helpful in our house. We set a timer for one hour on the device and the children know that have to hand over the ipad when the timer goes off. If they don’t, or if they whine – they lose the chance to have device time the following weekend.
  2. Follow the 20-20-20 rule – Every 20 minutes, encourage your kids to take a 20 second break where they look at something 20 feet away. This will reduce eye fatigue and strain.
  3. Remind your kids to blink.
  4. Create a family media plan and times/zones in your house and family where devices are not allowed.
  5. Alternate digital books with physical books.

If you want, I’ve included our device checklist here, available for download and personalizable with your child’s name. I laminate mine with these little self-sealing laminating pouches and have the kids check it off with a dry erase marker. Enjoy!

If you prefer watching videos, here is all this info on YT with a great cameo from my daughter.

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