How to Keep Your Kids' Eyes Healthy While They're on Screens
Check out these tips from an optometrist.
By Dr. Jason E. Compton, Compton Eye Associates, Owner & Head Doctor and AOA member
As an optometrist, I personally have seen the impact that prolonged screen time can have on my patients’ eye health; and as a father and avid gamer, I’m constantly thinking about how long my kids and I are staring at screens.
August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, which is a perfect time to focus on eye-related concerns for our kids. With gaming and social media scrolling on the rise, so is the risk of long-term eye health implications – particularly for children whose visual systems are still developing.
The fact is children are spending more time now than ever using screens. A survey conducted by the American Optometric Association (AOA) last year found that more than half of parents (55%) say their child(ren) spend(s) at least 3 hours each day consuming digital media – a 10% increase from 2018. Those results also revealed that 73% of parents are concerned about their child(ren)’s extended usage of electronic devices – myself included.
Screens are not going away. So, we need to ensure our children have a healthy relationship with them in the long term, especially when it comes to their eye health.
Spotting Eye Health Issues Early
While technology has many benefits, spending an excessive amount of time on digital devices can lead to screen-related eye issues, such as Computer Vision Syndrome (more commonly known as digital eye strain). Digital eye strain can cause headaches, blurry vision, poor sleeping, dry eyes, and myopia (nearsightedness). The more time someone spends on their screen, the harder their eyes have to work to focus, which puts an unnecessary strain on the visual system.
The AOA’s recent survey also found that one in five parents have a child that has been diagnosed with myopia, with 44% of these diagnoses occurring in the past 2 years. As a result of the COVID pandemic, many kids spent a lot of time indoors on their screens and we’re only now seeing the impact this has had on their eyes.
As parents, we should be aware of how much time our kids spend on their screens and be on the lookout for any warning signs of potential eye issues. These signs can include constant eye rubbing, excessive tearing, light sensitivity or wandering eyes.
Ways To Prevent Screen-Related Symptoms
Instead of shaming our kids for being on their phone or playing video games in their free time, we should educate them about the potential risks and help them create better, sustainable habits to protect their eye health. Practicing healthier screen time habits and setting appropriate time limits are essential to optimal long-term eye health.
Here are a few steps you can take with your kids to prevent digital eye strain:
- Schedule an in-person comprehensive eye exam annually for you and your kids.
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away. This simple habit can help the eyes refocus and prevent dry eyes.
- Minimize glare on the computer screen by repositioning the screen or adjusting your brightness to match your environment: a brighter screen in bright lighting or dimmer in dim lighting
- Maintain a comfortable viewing distance from screens by being at least 13 to 20 inches away from a smartphone, small tablet, or laptop and more than 20 inches away from a full-size laptop or computer monitor.
If your child is spending several hours a day looking at digital screens and/or experiencing symptoms, it’s important to speak with a doctor of optometry to keep your children’s eyes healthy offline, so they can continue to stay online doing what they love.
For more information, book an appointment with an AOA doctor of optometry near you at AOA.org/EyeDeserveMore.
Dr. Jason E. Compton graduated from the SUNY State College of Optometry and completed his residency at the Wilmington Delaware Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He owns three private practices, Compton Eye Associates, in the New York City area. Dr. Compton serves as Assistant Adjunct Faculty for the SUNY State College of Optometry, Regional Trustee for the New York State Optometric Association, fellow in the American Academy of Optometry and is a member of the American Optometric Association.
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