I have been asked many times about children and screen time, even before Covid. The amount of time kids spends staring at screens has been increasing: phones, tablets, and computers. Since Covid, screen time has dramatically increased due to remote learning and more time spent indoors at home. As an Optometrist I take seriously not only how to treat eye health conditions but also how to prevent the need for and reduce the amount of vision correction needed.
For thousands of years our ancestors were hunters and gatherers. We survived by having great distance vision. Now we spend hours a day doing close work at school, recreation, and our jobs. This is a totally different demand for our eyes and is associated with dry eyes, eye strain, nearsightedness, and obesity to name the most obvious ones.
Here are 4 lifestyle recommendations:
- 20/20/20 rule: take a 20 second break from close work each 20 minutes and look at least 20 feet away. Blink a little more.
- Work at the “elbow” distance. To measure this put your palm on your forehead and your close work should be no closer than your elbow.
- Green time not screen time. Outdoor play is associated with less nearsightedness. 90 minutes or more per day is recommended.
- Put a limit on screen time. Suggested limits:
Children below age 2 should have no screen time. Excessive screen time is associated with delayed language development and childhood obesity.
Children ages 2-5 should have a maximum 1-hour recreational screen time per day. Higher rates are associated with the above and poorer social skills.
Children ages 5-17 years should be limited to 2 hours recreational screen time per day.
Often, I will recommend glasses for near work with blue light reduction and there are some special contact lenses for myopia control (nearsightedness). Children should have regular eye exams to evaluate their eye health and how to maximize their visual performance.