With kids spending so much time on various devices, parents are bound to question the effects of staring at screens all day long. You already know that doing too much work at your computer or looking at your phone for extended periods makes your own eyes dry and blurry. What are the effects on a child's developing eyes? Will too much time on the phone, iPad, tablet, or computer ruin your child's eyes?
New research indicates that your child may be at increased risk for long-term vision problems; however, the phenomenon of children spending large quantities of their day interacting with screens is fairly recent, so the studies are not yet conclusive. Sure, television and video games have been around for decades already. But, children now have the opportunity to take mobile devices with them everywhere they go. They use a phone on car trips. They play with an iPad at dinner. Not only that, but they use computers and smart boards in school. The strain on children's ocular organs has never been so extensive.
Children's Eye strain
Considering the amount of time kids spend interacting with devices, it's no surprise that they, like adults, are susceptible to eye strain. The symptoms for children are the same as those for adults. So, watch out for complaints of:
- Dry, sore eyes
- Blurry vision
- Double vision
If your child mentions any of these symptoms to you after an extended period of screen use, take measures to ease the strain on your child's vision (discussed below). The above video should help you understand more about the effects of screen habits on kids. When it comes to your child's overall health, it's a good idea to limit the amount of time spent on devices.
Possible Long-term Effects
Some research indicates that constantly focusing at close visual ranges, such as with tablets or computers, may stress the eye and eventually lead to nearsightedness. However, the most common cause of nearsightedness in children is simply heredity. Children with nearsighted parents are more likely to develop nearsightedness, also called myopia, themselves.
Some studies now indicate that too much close visual work, such as reading or looking at screens, may also cause nearsightedness; however, in many cases myopia from visual stress is temporary rather than true myopia. The eyes simply need time to recover in order to focus in the distance again.
Research on the matter will likely continue, since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that kids get more than 8 hours of screen time per day on average. The amount of time on screens actually increases as children grow to adulthood, with young adults spending the most time looking at screens. Regardless of whether additional research finds long-term effects to be a serious concern, it's best to start teaching your children now about how to take care of their vision while using devices with screens.
Teaching Kids How to Take Breaks
Modern life has made us dependent upon technology for many of our needs—communication, entertainment, business. Not using devices with screens isn't really much of an option if you want your child to lead a normal life. Instead, make sure your child understands the basics about safe screen use:
- Take Time to Look Away — It's easy for kids to get caught up in games on the iPad or computer, but focusing at one distance for too long is a leading cause of eye strain. Teach your kids the 20-20-20 rule. It's easy to remember. Every 20 minutes, they simply take 20 seconds to look away from the screen and focus on an object 20 feet away.
- Blink Often — When children stare at a screen, particularly those on computers and mobile devices, they tend to blink less. Blinking is the eye's natural mechanism for moisturizing itself and keeping foreign debris out. When your child blinks less they increase the likelihood of eye strain and irritation. You may need to remind them of this regularly since it is something they do without consciously thinking about it. You may even want to put up a fun poster near the computer area to remind them. They'll be more likely to remember if you let them help to create the poster themselves.
- Computer Screen Tips — Another important step for eye health is teaching your child proper screen usage. Their computer monitor should be about 20 inches away from their face, so make sure they are not leaning in too close to see. If your child continues scooting closer to the computer or television, you may want to have their eyesight checked by an eye doctor. Also, teach your child to hold mobile devices like phones and tablets about midway out from the body—not close to the face, but not a full arm's length away, either.
- Make Time for Other Activities — Your child's body is growing and developing. Being hunched over a device or sitting on the couch for the majority of the day is bad not only for the developing eyes, but for the whole body. Your child should take a break from devices regularly throughout the day in order to stretch, play, or even relax without straining their eyes on a screen. Remember, they already spend a large portion of the day sitting at school. Exercise improves the health of every body system, eyes included.
- Get Plenty of Sleep — Sleep is essential for health, and growing children need several hours more sleep per night than an adult (about 10 hours per night for children between ages 6 and 13). Getting enough rest allows your child's eyes to take a much needed break and restore their moisture for the next busy day.
Eye strain and long-term visual damage are real concerns for our children. As with so many health concerns, the key to vision health is moderation. Teach your children good screen habits now to prevent headaches and vision problems throughout their lives, whether from temporary eye strain or long-term issues.