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Can screen time affect my child's eye health?

August 08, 2012

Have you ever caught your child staring at the computer or TV screen, not even taking the time to hardly blink? It’s as if their eyes are glued to the screen from being consumed with what they are doing or watching. For most parents, this is probably a scene you’ve seen far too often.

So, what? We’ve all heard that screen time can have an effect on a child’s activity level, but have you ever stopped to think about the other dangers of screen time? Yes, your child’s bodies need a break from the screen, but so do their eyes. Kid’s eye health is one of the main concerns for medical professionals when weighing the side effects of excessive screen time. The eyes are on-call all day long, and prolonged exposure to a digital screen only puts more strain on your child’s eyes.

Children are just as much, if not more, at risk for experiencing the symptoms related to sitting in front of a digital screen as adults. Some of the symptoms of excessive screen time that parents should be aware of are:

  • Complaining of dry or itchy eyes
  • Showing signs of headache
  • Frequent eye rubbing
  • Complaining of eye fatigue

But, why are kids more at-risk than adults?

Kids have a limited degree of self-awareness

Children are not as aware of the physical signs and symptoms of the body as adults are, and do not address them accordingly. Most children don’t notice just how exhausted they are from intense concentration when they are engaged and consumed by an entertaining video/computer game, or TV show. This can cause temporary eye focusing problems that are a direct result of being “locked in” to one image at a certain viewing distance for a period of time. This can create difficulty when trying to focus on other objects, following excessive screen viewing.

Children are very adaptable

As adults, it just makes sense to adjust the brightness of the screen to a more comfortable level, or turn the screen to reduce the amount of glare. But for kids, they learn to adapt to the environment they are in. This can cause increased eye strain, unknowingly, which could result in a mild headache or trouble focusing.

Children also tend to accept blurred vision due to nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism, which can also lead to excessive eye strain.

Children are smaller than adults

The typical workstation is arranged for the comfort of an adult- a comfortable chair and computer height, keyboard and mouse placement and screen distance. However, as soon as kids jump in the desk chair, it’s no longer comfortable. The computer screen is probably too high, causing them to look up, resulting in eye irritation. The chair is also probably too high, causing them to reach for the keyboard, or sit awkwardly, which can create muscle tension and pain.

What are some simple solutions to promote healthier screen time?

  • Give your kids a break, or better yet, limit screen time! Create breaks every 30 minutes to decrease the risk for irritation and temporary focusing issues. BUT, make sure your child’s breaks are not moving from one screen to the next. Encourage playtime outside, a board game, or some other type of activity to give your kids’ eyes a break.
  • Get your child’s vision checked annually. A comprehensive eye exam will ensure that your child is seeing clearly and there are no hidden issues that may contribute to eye strain.
  • Make the computer kid-friendly. Reposition the screen to minimize glare and adjust the height so that the screen is level with your child’s field of view. One of the easiest ways to do this is to invest in an adjustable chair that is suitable for you and your child.
Homework, video games, TV shows- there are so many reasons why your child may find themselves sitting in front of a screen for a long period of time. Help your child understand why it is important to limit screen time and encourage healthy habits that will protect your child’s health now, and in the future!