Managing Screen Time for Kids: Tips for Eye Health

Key points 

  • Extended screen time is directly linked to the development of myopia in children.
  • Keeping screen time under two hours can reduce the risk of eye discomfort and strain associated with prolonged use, as well as alleviate issues related to posture.
  • Prolonged exposure to digital screens is connected to dry eye syndrome, digital eye strain, and discomfort resulting from poor head and neck postures.
  • Encourage breaks and outdoor activities to prevent eye strain, reduce the risk of developing myopia, and promote physical activity.
  • Educate children about eye health, including practices like the 20-20-20 rule.
Managing Screen Time for Kids

How can screen time impact children’s eyes?

Excessive screen time can have significant effects on children’s eyes. Prolonged exposure to digital screens, such as those found on smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions, can lead to digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome. This condition encompasses a range of symptoms, including eye fatigue, dryness, blurred vision, and headaches. These symptoms can result from prolonged focusing on a screen, reduced blinking, and poor posture while using digital devices.

Additionally, excessive screen time has been associated with the development or worsening of myopia, or nearsightedness, especially when outdoor activities are limited. The constant focusing on nearby objects required during screen use can lead to changes in the shape of the eye, contributing to myopia progression. Studies have shown a correlation between increased screen time and the prevalence of myopia among children and adolescents.

Moreover, poor posture while using screens can exacerbate musculoskeletal issues, particularly in the neck and shoulders. Slouching or craning the neck forward while looking at screens can strain the muscles and ligaments, leading to discomfort and potential long-term problems.

To mitigate the effects of screens on children’s eyes, several strategies can be implemented. Encouraging regular breaks from screens, following the 20-20-20 rule (taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet or 6 metres away), can help reduce eye strain. Additionally, maintaining proper posture while using screens, with the screen at eye level and the back supported, can alleviate strain on the neck and shoulders. Limiting overall screen time and encouraging outdoor activities can also promote healthy eye development and reduce the risk of associated problems.

To learn more about Myopia read our article on Myopia in children-an increasing problem in today’s society.

How long are kids spending time on screens?

Children’s screen time varies widely depending on factors such as age, access to devices, and individual preferences. Research from the American Academy of Paediatrics suggests that, on average, many children spend approximately 3 to 4 hours per day engaged with screens, which includes activities like watching television, playing video games, and using smartphones, tablets, and computers. However, this figure is just an average, and actual screen time can vary greatly among children.

Older children and teenagers tend to spend more time on screens compared to younger children. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that some adolescents and teenagers may spend upwards of 6 to 9 hours or more each day on screens. This extended screen time can include various activities, such as social media use, online gaming, video streaming, and school-related tasks.

Excessive screen time among children has raised concerns about its impact on their health and well-being. One significant concern is the potential for digital eye strain, characterised by symptoms like eye fatigue, dryness, blurred vision, and headaches. Additionally, excessive screen time is often associated with reduced physical activity, which can contribute to issues such as obesity and poor cardiovascular health.

Managing screen time effectively is crucial for promoting healthy development and minimising negative consequences. Parents can play a pivotal role in this by setting limits on screen time, providing alternative non-screen based activities, and modeling healthy screen habits. Encouraging outdoor play, family time, and engaging in non-screen based activities can help balance screen time and promote overall well-being among children.

How much screen time is right for kids?

The amount of screen time you should allow for your child depends on various factors, including their age, individual needs, and the specific activities they engage in on screens. Guidelines from organisations like the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) offer general recommendations to help parents make informed decisions about screen time limits.

  1. Infants (0-18 months): Children younger than 18 months, the AAP suggests avoiding the use of screens other than video chatting altogether, except for video chatting.
  2. Toddlers (18-24 months): For children aged 18 to 24 months If screen time is introduced, it should be limited to 30 mins having high-quality programming or interactive activities that involve a caregiver.
  3. Preschoolers (2-5 years): For children aged 2 to 5 years Screen time should be limited to one hour per day of high-quality programming, and parents should co-view media with their children to help them understand what they are seeing.
  4. School-Aged Children (6+ years): For older children and adolescents, the AAP recommends setting consistent limits on screen time and ensuring it does not interfere with sleep, physical activity, or other healthy behaviors. 

It’s also essential to prioritise quality over quantity, encouraging educational and age-appropriate content while limiting exposure to violent or inappropriate material.

Ultimately, the right amount of screen time for your child will depend on their individual needs and circumstances. It’s essential to monitor their screen time usage, prioritise other activities like outdoor play, physical exercise, and face-to-face interactions, and maintain open communication with them about responsible screen use. Adjustments to screen time limits may be necessary based on your child’s developmental stage, interests, and overall well-being.

The Australian Government Department of Health have advised an Outside of school hours, it’s advised to restrict leisurely screen time, characterised by prolonged inactivity, to a maximum of two hours per day.

How screen time can affect children’s eye health?

  1. Dry eyes: Staring at screens for extended periods can reduce the natural rate of blinking, leading to dryness and discomfort in the eyes.
  2. Eye irritation: Screens emit blue light, which can cause eye irritation and fatigue, particularly when viewed at close distances for prolonged periods.
  3. Sleep disruption: The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, making it harder for children to fall asleep and negatively impacting their overall sleep quality.
  4. Reduced outdoor time: Excessive screen time often correlates with reduced time spent outdoors, which can deprive children of natural sunlight exposure, a factor believed to be protective against myopia development.
Learn more about vision problem in children in our article Tips for Parents: Recognising Signs of Vision Problems in Children.

How to effectively manage children’s screen time?

Effectively managing children’s screen time is essential for promoting healthy development and well-being in today’s digital age. Here are some strategies to help parents and caregivers manage children’s screen time effectively:

  1. Set clear and consistent rules: Establish clear guidelines for when and how much screen time is allowed each day. Consistency is key to helping children understand and follow these rules.
  2. Prioritise quality content: Encourage children to engage in educational and age-appropriate content when using screens. Look for high-quality programming, apps, and games that promote learning and creativity.
  3. Monitor screen time: Keep track of how much time children spend on screens each day and ensure it aligns with the established limits. Use parental controls and monitoring apps to track usage and enforce screen time rules.
  4. Encourage breaks and alternative activities: Encourage children to take regular breaks from screens to rest their eyes and engage in other activities. Encourage outdoor play, physical exercise, reading, and creative play as alternatives to screen time.
  5. Model healthy screen habits: Set a positive example by practicing healthy screen habits yourself. Limit your own screen time, especially when around children, and prioritise face-to-face interactions and other activities.
  6. Create screen-free zones and times: Designate certain areas of the home, such as bedrooms and dining areas, as screen-free zones. Establish screen-free times, such as during meals and before bedtime, to promote better sleep and family bonding.
  7. Foster open communication: Talk to children about the importance of balancing screen time with other activities and the potential consequences of excessive screen use. Encourage them to share any concerns or questions they may have about screen time.
  8. Be flexible and adapt: Be willing to adjust screen time rules and limits as needed based on individual circumstances and changing needs. Regularly reassess screen time habits and make adjustments as necessary to promote healthy screen habits and overall well-being.

Are blue-light glasses beneficial for children’s screen time?

The effectiveness of blue-light glasses for children’s screen time is a topic of debate among experts. Blue-light glasses are designed to filter out or reduce the amount of blue light emitted by screens, which is thought to be a contributing factor to digital eye strain and disruption of sleep patterns.

Some studies suggest that blue-light glasses may help alleviate symptoms of digital eye strain, such as eye fatigue and discomfort, especially when used during prolonged screen exposure. 

Additionally, while blue light from screens can affect sleep patterns by suppressing melatonin production, particularly in the evening, the impact of wearing blue-light glasses on sleep quality in children is not well understood. Some experts suggest that reducing screen time before bedtime and practicing good sleep hygiene may be more effective strategies for improving sleep quality in children.

FAQs

  1. What are some strategies for managing screen time effectively?

Setting clear limits on screen time, promoting outdoor activities, using parental controls, and modeling healthy screen habits are effective strategies for managing screen time in children.

2. How can I encourage my child to reduce screen time and engage in other activities?

Encouraging alternative activities such as outdoor play, sports, hobbies, reading, and creative activities can help reduce reliance on screens for entertainment. Setting a positive example by limiting your own screen time and participating in non-screen activities with your child can also be influential.

3. Are there any resources available to help me manage my child’s screen time effectively?

Yes, there are numerous resources available, including apps and tools with built-in parental controls, online guides and articles on healthy screen habits, and professional advice from pediatricians and eye care specialists. Additionally, organisations like the American Academy of Paediatrics  provide guidelines and recommendations for managing screen time in children.

4. Can screen time before bed affect my child’s eye health and sleep quality?

Yes, screen time before bed can negatively impact both eye health and sleep quality. The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, leading to difficulties in falling asleep and poorer sleep quality. Reducing screen time at least one hour before bedtime can help improve sleep patterns and reduce eye strain.

5. What types of screen activities are least likely to cause eye strain and how can they be incorporated?

Activities with larger font sizes, higher contrast, and reduced glare are less likely to cause eye strain. Educational apps designed with eye health in mind can be beneficial. Encourage interactive, hands-on learning apps that require physical movement or activities that balance screen time with off-screen tasks.

Conclusion

In conclusion, finding the right balance between screen time and eye health for kids is key. By setting clear limits, promoting healthy habits, and monitoring content, parents can ensure their children enjoy screen time safely. Prioritising breaks, encouraging alternative activities, and fostering open communication about online experiences are vital for their overall well-being. Striking this balance allows children to reap the benefits of technology while safeguarding their eye health for the long term.

Author Bio

Dr Parth Shah is an experienced ophthalmologist in Canberra, specialising in paediatric  surgery. With extensive training and experience, he is renowned for his expertise in the field. Dr Shah is dedicated not only to performing successful surgeries but also to patient education. His compassionate approach, combined with technical proficiency, has earned him the trust and gratitude of countless patients. He is a true advocate for eye health and a trusted name in the Canberra ophthalmology community.