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What Does Too Much Screen Time Do to Your Child’s Eyes?

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A young boy with glasses looking closely at a smartphone screen putting him at risk for digital eye strain

We’re using digital screens more than ever before. But maintaining a healthy ocular system requires an understanding of how our eyes react to so much time with our devices. It’s likely your child is exposed to digital screens throughout their entire day at school and home. Understanding digital eye strain has become a part of modern eye care for you and your family.

Helping your child manage their screen time is important. But it’s also very important to make sure they are receiving regular children’s eye exams with an optometrist. Knowing how screen time affects young people’s vision is the first step. If your child is struggling to see accurately it’s time to schedule an appointment with your optometrist.  

What is Digital Eye Strain?

Digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome (CVS), is an eye condition resulting from over-exposure to digital screens. This includes desktop computers, laptops, cell phones, tablets, e-readers, and other electronic devices that display digital images. People are spending over 6 hours a day staring at digital screens! The impact of all this near-focus work can affect both adults and children.

Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome

The following list contains many of the symptoms known to be associated with CVS. Symptoms are believed to be more abundant after prolonged sessions in front of a screen. Children can experience many of the same symptoms as adults related to computer usage.

  • Dry eyes
  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Neck or back pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Eye fatigue

A boy using a laptop that's resting on his lap for an extended period of time making him more likely to develop computer eye syndrome

Why Children Are Affected by Computers

Children are generally less self-aware than adults. This means that the millions of kids using computers may not notice when their screen viewing setup isn’t quite right. Children are often quite adaptable by nature, but this means that they may not adjust themselves when conditions can strain their eyes.

Improve Your Child’s Screen Time Experience

There are some things you can do to improve the way that children view tablets and computers. These techniques may reduce the strain associated with heavy periods on electronic devices.

  • Set optimal lighting in places your child uses a computer. This should be about half as bright as a typical classroom. Too much light can create glare on screens and make it hard for children to focus between different light levels.
  • Find a glare-free location away from a window or light fixture. Adults will react to glare and reposition their devices, but children may not do this on their own. Look to set up computers and digital learning stations in places where your child won’t have to squint.
  • Create a child-friendly workspace, which means that your child can reach the keyboard and screen easily without straining their neck or back. Most desks are set up for adults, so try a place where your child can view a screen at a 15-degree downward angle.

Use the 20-20-20 Rule

The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends this simple and effective rule for spending long sessions on a digital device. It can be applied to children just the same as adults and can make a difference in relieving some strain associated with using computers.

Every 20 minutes,

Give your child a 20-second break,

And ask them to look at something 20 feet away.

It’s that simple.

Digital Screens & Myopia

Studies show that myopia frequency is increasing in North America. Better known as nearsightedness, myopia is a refractive error that makes long-distance vision blurry. Myopia occurs when the eye changes shape, becoming longer than normal and altering the curvature of the cornea.

Most major changes in the curvature of the eye occur between the ages of 6-18. So making sure your child receives regular eye exams is paramount to their healthy ocular development. There are studies to suggest that the abundance of near-work activities, those that are close to our eyes, is a reason that kids are being diagnosed with myopia more frequently. Most children are unable to disengage from digital screens entirely, so ensure that myopia is being managed by their optometrist.

Managing Your Child’s Digital Future

Every modern parent must manage the balance between keeping their child engaged with today’s learning tools and protecting their vision. Know the risks that digital eye strain can have on your child’s vision and manage their screen time appropriately. 

Make sure your child sees their optometrist regularly and visits the eye doctor any time they communicate difficulties seeing. We all need to adapt to the digital age, so help your child’s eyes grow safely.

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