The pandemic has certainly increased the amount of time that people are sitting in front of screens each day, and kids are no exception.
With the rise of remote and online learning, children are exposed to screens more often than they used to be. Pair that with the amount of time spent watching TV, playing with their cellphones, or playing video games, and screen time is at an all-time high.
It’s important to explain to your children how screen time can affect their eyes, and coming up with a family media plan may be helpful to prevent eye strain, obesity, sleep disturbances and more for not only your children, but you as well.
Below are some tips on how to create a media use plan for your family, as well as how screen time can affect your children’s eyes.
Why Are Screen Breaks Important?
When too much time is spent staring at screens for the various duties that we must complete in our daily lives, it can cause a variety of less than pleasant symptoms. Some of those symptoms are:
• Eye fatigue. Muscles around the eyes like any other muscle in the body, can get tired from continued exposure to screens and use. Focusing on a screen for extended periods can cause concentration difficulties or headaches.
• Blurry Vision. Staring at the same distance for an extended period of time can cause the eye’s focusing system to spasm or temporarily “lock-up.” This condition, which is called “accommodation spasm” causes vision to blur when your child looks away from the screen. There is some research that supports that computer or other screen use, may be fueling raising rates of myopia but more research is needed to confirm this.
• Dry eyes. Some studies have found that when you are heavily concentrated on a screen in front of you, you blink less. Blinking is important to keep your eyes lubricated and functioning as they should. When you blink less, your child may start to develop dry eye or eye irritation from not blinking enough.
As a parent, what can you do to protect your child’s eyes from too much screen time?
• Monitor the use of screen time and try to strike a good balance between the digital world and the real world. Two important aspects of this are ensuring that your child not have devices in their rooms at night that could cut into their sleep, and that they get regular exercise breaks, ideally for an hour a day outside.
• Encourage your children to take frequent breaks from screens. Even just a few minutes of being able to look at something else may help prevent the above issues. The American Optometric Association recommends the 20/20/20 rule. Look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. In addition, children should walk away from the screen for at least 10 minutes every hour.
• Good sleep hygiene. Having your child avoid blue light exposure at least an hour before bed time may help.
• Encourage your child to blink a little more when focusing on a screen. This could help prevent dry eyes.
• Screen positioning. Make sure that the screen on your child’s computer is slightly below eye level. When you look up at a screen, it opens your eyes wider and can dry them out quicker.
• Get regular vision screenings and check-ups. If your child complains about not being able to see well or tells you things look fuzzy, get them to their eye doctor for a check-up. Eye appointments should ideally occur annually.
To learn more about eye strain or conditions related to screen time, click here.
Family Media Use Plan Tips for Families:
• Screens should be kept out of children’s bedrooms whenever possible, especially at bedtime. Put in place a media curfew plan at mealtime and bedtime that requires your children to put away their cellphones or computers so they aren’t distracted by screens when they try to go to bed.
• Know that excessive media use can lead to problems such as obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavioral issues. Limit entertainment screen time, and encourage your child to read a book, work on an art or music project or have a family game night.
• For kiddos under 2, substitute unstructured play time and human interaction for screen time.
• Take an active role in your child’s media education by co-viewing tv shows, documentaries, movies, etc. and try to find media that is educational or has more value beyond entertainment.
• Teach your child how to navigate the internet safely and encourage your child to be a good digital citizen.
For more tips on how to create and implement a family media use plan, click here.