There are many reasons why a child should not spend too much time in front of a screen. The scientific team of the Pediatric Ophthalmology Department of Greece, however, focuses on the risks to children’s vision from excessive use of screens, and what parents can do to limit their children’s exposure to screens…
Did you know that screens…
1. They reduce outdoor playtime, which can cause myopia: Children who spend most of the day indoors are more likely to develop myopia. One of the causes leading to this is lack of contact with sunlight. The rate of childhood myopia has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. “Exposure to natural light is important for a child’s development and also their vision,” says Dr. Coseis Nicholas. “Children need to play outdoors to improve their physical fitness and also their vision.”
2. Tiring eyes: The fatigue is even more pronounced when the lighting in the room is bright and causes reflections on the screen. Positioning the screen correctly in relation to the eyes, at a level slightly below eye level, and adjusting the room lighting to avoid unwanted reflections will reduce symptoms. Long hours of focusing the eyes on a screen tires the eyes. “The eyes need breaks,” says Dr. Magda Triantafyllas, “something that children forget as they become obsessed with what they are doing and lose track of time.”
3. They dry and irritate the eyes: Concentrating the gaze on a screen reduces the rate of blinking, resulting in drying and irritation of the eye surface. The disturbed moisture of the eye surface, apart from causing discomfort, also causes blurred vision. Children who have this problem often blink, tear, have red eyes and feel that something is bothering them. Frequent moisturizing of the eyes with artificial tears relieves them.
4. They reduce the ability to focus at various distances: When the eyes remain focused at a close distance for long periods, children find it difficult to adjust their vision to another distance. However, this is a transient problem and is solved by playing outdoors.
5. They cause sleep disturbances: Research has shown that the blue light from screens, when used at night, can alter sleep patterns. The brain, which receives this light through the eyes, thinks it is daytime and not evening, thus altering its biological clock and keeping the child awake. The use of glasses with special filters for blue radiation has been shown to help in many cases.
What should parents do?
1.Set clear limits on screen time. Here are some ways:
- Set a limit on daily screen time and stick to it.
- Encourage your child to play outdoors.
- Create some habits, such as no screen time in the car, at restaurants, mealtime, etc.
- Ban screen use before bedtime.
- Teach your children with your behavior. Show them how to live a healthy, balanced life by substituting screen use with other activities.
Dr Nikos Kozais encourages parents to teach their children the 20-20-20 rule when using a computer, tablet or mobile phone. This rule requires that for every 20 minutes of continuous screen use, the child should look away (20 feet/10 meters) for 20 seconds. The same practice should be followed by adults.
2. Have their children’s eyes examined as a precautionary measure. The visually demanding times we live in require frequent and regular eye examinations, especially in childhood, when the visual system is still developing and is not ready to take the burden of intense visual activities. A comprehensive preventive eye examination by a qualified paediatric ophthalmologist, which differs in many ways from an adult examination, is required at least once a year, starting in the sensitive preschool years.