Is Screen-Time Ruining Children's Eyes?
Countless times, after performing an exam on a child I've turned to the parents and explained that their child needs glasses and right away they say to their kid "I told you that you're using the iPad too much!" Screen-time is a major concern that parents have when it comes to their children's eyes. But what are the real risks? Do they cause the need for glasses? Are screens damaging to children's eyes? Everyone seems to have an opinion but I'll summarize what the evidence has shown and try to break it down into a few categories.
Screens do not cause nearsightedness but may cause visual discomfort
Looking at screens, especially screens within arms reach, require the muscles in and around the eyes to work hard to keep things in focus. This is fine for shorter periods of time, but if prolonged it can strain the muscles leading to soreness around the eyes or eye fatigue. Generally, this is not permanent and can be relieved by simply turning off the screen or at least taking breaks. Looking at a screen for a long period of time can also increase the dryness of the eyes, which can make the eyes uncomfortable.
Despite this temporary discomfort, research has shown that screen-time is not a direct cause of increasing prevalence or progression of myopia (nearsightedness). Basically, screen use does not make you need glasses and does not make a glasses prescription worsen. There is evidence, however, that decreased outdoor time does make glasses more likely so if screen-time is causing your children to be outside less, that could have an effect. So make sure your kids get outside (and remember to use sunscreen and sunglasses)!
Screens affect more than just our eyes!
Screens do not cause a need for glasses but that doesn't mean there's no need for limits. Screens actually can affect childhood development as a whole. High amounts of screen time is related to increased risks of obesity, worse school performance, worse sleep quality, and risky behaviors in older children, as well as delays in critical cognition, learning, and social skills in younger children. We need to protect our children from those effects!
Here are some recommendations from the Canadian Paediatric Society:
Minimize screen time:
- Screen time for children younger than 2 years is not recommended.
- For children 2 to 5 years, limit routine or regular screen time to less than 1 hour per day.
- Ensure that sedentary screen time is not a routine part of child care for children younger than 5 years.
- Maintain daily 'screen-free' times, especially for family meals and book-sharing.
- Avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime, given the potential for melatonin suppressing effects.
Mitigate (reduce) the risks associated with screen time:
- Be present and engaged when screens are used and, whenever possible, co-view with children.
- Be aware of the content and prioritize educational, age-appropriate, and interactive programming.
- Use parenting strategies that teach self-regulation, calming and limit-setting.
Technology can be wonderful but we do have to make sure we integrate it properly. Screen-time can be fun or maybe even educational at times, but the well-being of our kids should be a top priority. It won't make your kids need glasses, but it can have other effects. The key is balance.