What is the impact of screen time on children’s vision?
21 October 2021
The effects of screen time on your child’s eyesight
Since the start of the pandemic, many children have turned to virtual learning during lockdown to continue their schooling, leading to a heavy increase in their amount of screen time. Children in the UK aged between 5 – 16 years old now spend an average of 6.3 hours using screens per day. With all the extra time spent focusing on screens (whether for virtual learning or leisure), it makes sense that you might be concerned about your child’s vision and eye health. To help ease your worries, we’ve put together some top tips on how to keep your children’s eyes healthy, and what potential symptoms you should be looking out for.
What are the side effects of increased screen time for children?
It’s understandable that children have had to rely on screens throughout the pandemic for their education. Unfortunately, this means that the extended use of digital screens – without taking consistent breaks or making adjustments – could potentially harm your child’s eyes. This could lead to eye strain, soreness, and even the development of short-sightedness (myopia). The side effects of increased screen time on children’s eyes can include:
- Digital eye strain: Digital eye strain is a modern eye condition that is becoming more common, as it occurs from prolonged use of digital screens – such as phones, laptops and TVs. If your child is spending a lot of their time glued to digital devices, their eyes may become fatigued and staring at a screen too closely (like a mobile phone) can also strain the muscles in their eyes. The light glare that is reflected off digital screens can also lead to eye strain. Other symptoms of eye strain to look out for in your child include headaches, dry eyes, blurred or double vision, and light sensitivity.
- Myopia: Myopia (also known as short-sightedness) is a condition that makes focusing on objects in the distance more difficult, even though objects nearby can be seen clearly. According to the NHS, short-sightedness has been linked to “focusing on nearby objects, such as books and computers, for long periods during childhood”. Research has also found that children are twice as likely to experience myopia now than 50 years ago. This could be linked to the rise in digital screen use during childhood, not just during the pandemic, but over the past few decades in general, alongside an overall decline in outdoor time. This means that children can become short-sighted if they spend less time outside and do not take adequate breaks away from any screens.
- Blue light: Another issue caused by increased screen time that many parents worry about is the impact of blue light on their children’s eyes. The blue light that is emitted from digital devices has been linked to digital eye strain and myopia. One study has even shown that children’s eyes absorb more blue light than adults’ eyes from digital screens. Therefore, if your child begins to spend more time outdoors, this can help slow the progression of short-sightedness as their eyes would not be exposed to significant amounts of blue light.
How can I look after my child’s vision and eye health?
You may not be able to stop your child from using screens completely in this day and age, but there are a few things you can do to protect your child’s eyes from any vision or eye health problems.
One action you can take is trying to reduce your child’s screen time if it begins to disrupt their other activities, such as socialising and sleep. Even if they have to use a laptop or tablet for educational purposes, you can still set a realistic screen time limit for your child outside of schooling to protect their vision from deteriorating. You can also follow the 20:20:20 rule, which is pretty easy to do! The 20:20:20 rule means your child should look away from their screen every 20 minutes, look at an object that is 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. This rule helps to relax the muscles in the eyes and can help reduce the symptoms of eye strain.
Another important tip you should follow is booking an annual comprehensive eye test for your child. If you’ve noticed any changes in your child’s vision over the past few months, or they have mentioned having any of the symptoms above, it’s best to take them for an eye test. We recommend children get their eyes tested at least once a year to ensure their eyes remain healthy and to prevent their vision from worsening as they grow and develop.
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