As the COVID-19 crisis takes us into unchartered territory in terms of our health and wellbeing, it’s highly likely that we will be in lockdown mode at home. We’ll be working from home and our children will be studying online. As most of us with kids will attest, our children love their screens – more so when they can’t meet up with their mates or engage in sporting activities. Like it or not, our children will be on screens for the better part of the day, doing home work, connecting with their friends, making Tik-Tok videos or watching Netflix. As optometrists, we have these recommendations to make when it comes to our children and screen time to make it as safe for their vision as possible.
Our Screen Time Recommendations
Scientific evidence strongly recommends that children’s use of computer screens, mobile phones, tablets and other devices should be limited. Excessive computer and screen use has been shown to be associated with a greater risk of developing short-sightedness as well as increased symptoms of eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain, due to our eyes focusing and aiming close-up for very long periods. Reading from electronic devices requires more effort and is more fatiguing than from hard copy such as books.
The Australasian College of Behavioural Optometrists (ACBO) recommends the following guidelines for children using near vision screen equipment:
0-2 years: No screen time, with the exception of live video-chatting (e.g., Skype, Facetime) with parental support.
2-5 years: Less than 1 hour per day. What they watch should be age-appropriate, educational and of high quality and should be discussed with them for feedback. Excessive screen time before the age of 5 may cause delays in development, cognitive delays and poorer academic performance.
5-18 years: 2 hours per day or less. Ideally, recreational screen time should be limited and should be considered based on their development and needs. We understand that children do get a lot of assignments online nowadays, but they need to set aside specific timeframes for this homework to be done and should follow the guidelines below.
Screen Time Tips
ACBO recommends the following guidelines to help prevent vision and other problems from excessive screen use:
Encourage moderation in near vision screen time
Studies show that children who spend more than 2 hours a day on screens, and less than 1 ½ hours outdoors, are more likely to become short-sighted. Consider reducing your own screen time as an example to your children.
Ensure Good Posture
Your child’s posture and working distance are very important. Devices should be no closer than the distance to your elbow. Never read lying on your stomach, as the viewing distance will be much closer. Excessive, extremely close smartphone use can cause severe eye coordination problems. When reading an electronic document or book, encourage your children to look up and away as they turn the page.
Take a Break
When using screens, have a short break at least every hour.
Avoid using computer, phones or tablets outside or in brightly lit areas, as the lighting and glare differences can create strain.
Take Care in Cars
Try not to let your children use computers, phones or tablets while travelling in a car. Use the opportunity to look far, play games and take in their surroundings.
Not Too Bright
Adjust the brightness of the device your child is using for the light and circumstances.
Use a Clock or Timer
Remind them to take a break. We recommend looking away every 20 minutes of continuous near focusing, and a physical break every hour for children under the age of 9 years of age.
Stop screen use for an hour before bedtime
Studies show that screen use just before bed can increase the risk of a child failing to fall asleep and staying asleep.
Screen Time and Myopia (Short-sightedness):
Evidence shows that children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be, or to become myopic, irrespective of how much near work they do, or whether their parents are myopic. Outdoor time has a significant protective effect against developing some types of myopia. Increased study time of more than 2.5 hours per day can increase the risk of myopia.
Screen Time and Eye Development:
Evidence suggests that half of children/teens exceed the public health screen time recommendation of 2 hours/day or less. More than 2 hours of smartphone use produces greater chances of vision problems. Most studies on the effects of screen time in children indicate that the odds of visual symptoms increase after 2–4 hours of use.
If you need to get your children’s eyes tested, please make an appointment with our optometrists by calling us on 9362-9944.