Kids seem to just gravitate towards smartphones. Somehow they intuitively know how to work them, and of course they can smell one from a mile away. And once they have one in their hands, it’s only a matter of seconds before they’ve turned on a movie or got their favorite game up. With the increasingly low cost and high accessibility of smartphones and tablets, kids are getting more “screen time” than ever. The American Optometric Association found that 41 percent of parents say their kids spend at least three hours a day on a device. In addition, roughly 66 percent of kids have their own tablet or smartphone.
For parents and caregivers who notice their kids constantly spending time on devices, this can be the cause of some concern. The questions being, “How long is too long for them to spend doing that? Can looking at that little screen all day damage their sensitive eyes?” In this article we’ll talk a little about what’s safe and advisable. We’ll also explain what risks are associated with passing extensive periods of time looking at a phone.
Because blue light has a shorter wavelength, it has more energy. At the end of the color scale, these wavelengths’ dimensions are comparable to UV rays. Scientists believe that this increased energy is what accounts for blue light’s ability to damage the retina. Studies show that cells in the retina are particularly sensitive, and particularly subject to damage from blue light. Experiments are being done to see if exposure to blue light may cause early onset of macular degeneration, a vision disorder that typically occurs in people above age 60.
Although we’re definitely in the early stages of understanding the potential retinal risks of blue light, there are some things we know. For example, we know that exposure to this light before bed can affect your ability to fall asleep. For children who play games or watch TV shows before bed, this can harm their sleep schedule greatly. With as much sleep as young children need, we recommend that parents help kids get off of their devices a few hours before it’s time to sleep.
In addition, extensive exposure to a screen can cause “eye strain”. Eyestrain comes as a result of fatigued eyes, getting tired of focusing on something small and up close. The symptoms can include burning, tired, or itchy eyes, as well as headaches, double vision, or blurred vision. Left unchecked, these problems can grow into more significant binocular vision problems. If your child is complaining of headaches and doubling or blurring vision when on a screen or even when reading or doing homework, we strongly recommend scheduling an evaluation to look into this.
For all worries about blue light, eye strain, and even poor posture that kids develop bending over a screen for a long time, the simplest remedy is to limit their time spent on phones and tablets. We recommend no more than 20 minutes consecutive phone time, 30 minutes of tablet time, and no more than 60 minutes of total screen time a day. Of course an occasional movie is okay, but that should be done on a big screen at a distance, not up close on a little screen which can be hard on the eyes. Of course some kids will react negatively to this, but we think the battle is worth it. If your children resist, or insist that “there’s nothing else to do”, you might consider helping them think up some alternatives. Some parents have successfully implemented screen time as a reward for good behavior, while have succeeded by encouraging their kids to go outside with a new swing set or sandbox.
At Mountainview Vision Therapy it is our goal to help you and your family as much as we possibly can. If you have any questions or concerns about this, please give us a call or make an appointment today!