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How Much Screen Time is Too Much for Kids

Posted on August 3rd, 2022

The ins and outs of how screen time affects children’s eyes 

Believe it or not, back to school season will soon be upon us. In the summer months, kids tend to spend less time glued to screens, and more time soaking up the sunshine. But with autumn nearing, we’re sharing some useful information about kids and screen time.

Before we delve into strategies to limit screen time, let’s first explain how screen exposure can impact a child’s eyes, and the way in which they develop.

Why should you limit your child’s screen time?

Research shows that children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than seven hours a day in front of a screen for entertainment—not for schoolwork. That means many kids spend the vast majority of their day staring at screens.

There are countless reasons why this is problematic, and why you should ensure your child isn’t spending too much time with their eyes stuck on a screen. For one, it detracts from other, more meaningful activities, such as playing outside, socializing face-to-face, and fostering strong sleeping habits. But beyond the behavioral ramifications of excessive screen time, it can also be damaging to one’s eye development and overall ocular health.

How does screen time impact eye health?

Too much screen time can cause a number of eye issues, including:

Dry eyes: Dry eye disease can impact people of all ages, and can be induced by staring at screens for long stretches of time without pausing. When looking at a screen, people are less inclined to blink, which causes their eyes to dry out. Dry eye disease comes with a host of uncomfortable symptoms, including burning, itching, and watery, red eyes. These symptoms can hinder a child’s ability to focus on other tasks, including schoolwork.

Eye fatigue: Just like other muscles in our bodies, our eyes get exhausted if they aren’t given a break. Staring at a screen intensely for prolonged periods can spur squinting and eye fatigue, leading to headaches around the temples and the eyes.

Blurry vision: An accommodative spasm can occur when the eyes remain focused on a screen for too long, which can result in blurred vision when looking away from the device. Blurred vision can lead to headaches and nausea.

Nearsightedness: Otherwise known as myopia, studies have shown an increase in the rate of nearsightedness among children in recent years, possibly fueled by excessive screen use. Research has also shown that the odds of a child developing myopia decrease with every additional hour spent outdoors. Every hour spent in front of a screen, meanwhile, means less time outside—and a higher likelihood of developing vision deficiencies.

How much screen time is too much for kids?

When it comes to screen time, moderation matters. According to the Canadian Pediatric Society, children under two years of age should have no screen time, and those between the ages of two and five should limit screen time to one hour per day or less. Kids five and older should limit screen time to less than two hours per day. Simply put, more than seven hours a day of screen time is far too much.

Parents should be mindful of their child’s screen time, and monitor them for the aforementioned symptoms, which could indicate that eye problems are brewing. Try to diversify your child’s activities, and encourage them to spend as much time as possible outside and away from technology.

Ways to limit screen time

As parents, it can be hard to compel your child to spend less time online, particularly in our current world that is so heavily dependent on technology for entertainment and communication. Here are some useful tips to make digital life less harmful to kids:

Set boundaries: Create screen-free windows throughout the day, such as during meals, homework time, and before bed.

No screens in the bedroom: Avoid giving your child access to screens in their bedroom, as this could disturb healthy sleep habits. Designating certain spaces within your home for screen use will help keep boundaries in place.

Encourage outdoor play: The more a child plays outside, the less time they will spend glued to a screen. Make sure your child is getting adequate exercise and play time, away from screens.

Eliminate background TV: If your child is focusing on a screenless task, such as homework, make sure there are no background screen distractions, like a TV playing nearby. This is still considered screen time, and it could discourage a child from focusing on an otherwise screenless, mentally-stimulating activity.

Interactive options: When it comes to computer games, try to opt for interactive programs to ensure your child is engaging with the content, rather than passively consuming it. If screen time is necessary, try to be cognizant of what content your child is interacting with, and whether it is helping or hindering their mental and emotional development.

Take breaks: When your child has spent a prolonged period of time in front of a screen, encourage them to take regular breaks to avoid eye strain and fatigue.

Go for regular eye exams: The best way to protect your child’s eyes is to ensure they are getting regular eye exams, so that any problems can be swiftly addressed and ideally, eradicated.

To ensure your child’s eyes are safe from underlying issues caused by excessive screen time, book a comprehensive eye exam at an FYidoctors clinic near you.