After the holidays, many homes are full of exciting new electronics loaded with the latest apps and games. Kids of all ages are likely having a blast as they learn the amazing new capabilities of their devices. If you have children who are spending more time on digital devices this season, take a moment to notice just how much screen time they are getting and if, during all of this excitement, they begin complaining that their eyes hurt.
What is Digital Eye Strain?
While new tablets, smartphones, computers and TVs can provide hours of entertainment and discovery, they can also have an adverse effect on our vision. Staring at digital screens can cause hazy, blurred vision and can make eyes burn and feel dry, itchy and irritated. This condition is known as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome. Other symptoms of digital eye strain can include:
- Problems focusing
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Words moving on the screen (due to underlying eye alignment issues)
According to Sarah Hinkley, associate professor at Ferris State University Michigan College of Optometry and spokeswoman for the American Optometric Association, digital eye strain is a nationwide problem, and it is occurring more frequently in kids. "As children acquire cellphones at younger ages and are using them more frequently during the day," Hinkley explains, "we are seeing the symptoms presenting in younger children more than we have before" (Source: Gunnar).
Don't Banish the Device. Train the Operator
Electronics are great tools for education and leisure. Children do not naturally set boundaries for themselves, so adults can help by teaching moderation. It begins with having conversations with kids about digital eye strain and how electronic devices affect eye health. You can even ask them to help set guidelines for electronics and come up with a family plan. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Listen to the experts. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Health recommended that children under two years of age should not be in front of a screen at all, and over that age, the maximum leisure screen time should be no more than two hours a day (Source: Tech Advisor).
- Model good habits in front of your kids. In a survey conducted for the Vision Council, 70 percent of American adults say they have experienced digital eye strain, and 60 percent of respondents said they looked at screens at least 6 hours per day. If you limit your kids to an hour of screen time in the evenings, try to adhere to the same guidelines yourself.
- Create a "bedtime" for devices. Too much screen time can interfere with natural sleep cycles, so turn off all devices at least one hour before children go to bed. Have a designated place like the kitchen where you charge all devices at night. This is a great way to avoid temptation!
- Remember 20-20-20. Teach your children this rule of thumb: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at an object at least 20 feet away.
- Blink! Staring at digital screens decreases our blink rate. Remind your kids to blink their eyes more often than they think they need to, and this will help keep their eyes moist.
- Teach your kids about the importance of positioning. Create sufficient distance between the screen and your eyes. Keep hand-held devices a good distance from the eyes and just below eye level.
- Adjust the brightness of screens. Change the background color to cool gray. Consider adding a blue light filter to smartphones and tablets.
- Increase text size on screens.
- Try not to use "more screen time" as a reward. Keep within your agreed-upon family limit.
Teaching kids about moderation is an important life skill, so feel confident in setting healthy boundaries. If you have any questions about digital eye strain and eye health, talk to your ophthalmologist. If you would like to find a board-certified ophthalmologist in your area, use our Find a Physician locator.