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The amount of screen time children get is an ongoing concern for modern parents. How much is too much? Can it damage your eyes? Parents have a lot of questions about screen use in the same way our parents asked questions about television. Below we've got some tips on how to manage your screen time and ensure healthy vision for your child (and yourselves! We know how much time you spend in front of a screen, because we do too).
Nearsightedness is on the rise worldwide. Cases of myopia have doubled in the U.S. since 1971, and an estimated 90 percent of teenagers and adults in Asia have issues with nearsightedness. There are a number of speculated reasons for this, and screens may be among them.
It's not just screens: a 2019 study published in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, presented evidence that the increasing number of myopia cases was related to near work. This comprises any variety of activity with a short working distance, which means not just screen time but also reading, writing, studying, and homework. So it's not just activities traditionally thought of as frivolous that may cause eye damage -- your child's Nintendo Switch might be a major source of near work, but so is the increasing amount of homework kids are assigned. This is certainly something to watch out for with the move towards distance learning in the Covid era.
Time outdoors is also a factor. Studies suggest that additional time outdoors improves vision development and slows the progression of nearsightedness. Make sure your kids get the time outside that they need!
When you were young, you were probably told that watching too much TV or sitting too close will ruin your eyesight. Luckily this kind of damage is a myth. But staring at screens too long and doing too much near work does produce physical symptoms for children, ones you're probably familiar with if you spend your days working at a computer:
These symptoms have no permanent damage attached, but make sure your child is taking time away from screens and books so they can avoid this discomfort.
Proper sleep is massively important to childhood development. It improves both physical and mental well-being, and helps prevent the onset of diseases like childhood obesity. But sleep duration and quality are steadily declining across all age groups in the U.S. Part of this is due to the increased time demands of both workplaces and schools, but screen time is another factor.
Studies show that 90 percent of Americans use a screen within an hour of going to bed at least a few nights a week. Artificial lights can have effects that increase alertness, suppress melatonin, and possibly shift your circadian rhythm, making sleep more difficult. But on the most basic level, screen time convinces you to push back sleep! It's easy to lose track of time when an algorithm is leading you from video to video, and suddenly it's 2 a.m. and you've spent the last four hours learning about defunct theme parks. Don't pretend you haven't been there -- if YouTube can trick you into staying up late, it can keep your children awake too.
It's not just your eyes, of course: excessive screen time is linked to inactivity, which comes with a host of health complications, particularly childhood obesity (which is linked to diabetes, which can cause eyesight degradation). Screens can be incredibly useful for learning, and there's nothing wrong with getting some of your entertainment from video games or streaming services, but the biggest takeaway here is balance: make sure your children are getting enough time to play and explore the world. They need time outdoors to stay physically active, develop emotionally, and maintain good eyesight as their body grows.
We all have to use screens in our daily life, unless you've entirely gone off the grid and at that point you're probably getting this article delivered to you in cryptograph via carrier pigeon. But for the rest of us, here are some tips for you and your family on preserving your eyes during screen time:
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