Do your children complain of burning, itchy or tired eyes? Chances are, they might be spending too many hours on their electronic devices or indulging in too much screen time. Digital eye strain, caused by extended use of technology, is becoming more of a problem for children ages 10 to 17. Other common symptoms of digital eye strain are blurred vision, double vision, headaches, fatigue and pain in the head or neck.
How Well Do You Know Your Kids?
In a survey conducted by the American Optometric Association (AOA), 83 percent of children in the 10 to 17 age group estimate that they use an electronic device for three or more hours per day. Interestingly, the AOA also surveyed parents of children in this age group and found that only 40 percent of parents realized that their children were using electronic devices for that same amount of time (Source: AOA). What this study shows is that parents are “unaware that they are unaware.” Not knowing how many hours their children spend on electronic devices means that parents may not be looking for symptoms of digital eye strain in their children. If mom and dad are not aware of how often the kids are using electronics, they may overlook the warning signs of eye fatigue.
What Devices Cause Digital Eye Strain?
It’s not just smart phones that are the problem. Any device that emits high-energy, short-wavelength blue and violet light can cause eye strain and irritation. Other examples of devices that give off this “blue light” are:
- LED monitors
- Flat screen televisions
- Cool-light compact fluorescent bulbs
The long-term effect of overexposure to this type of light is not yet known, but it may even lead to age-related macular degeneration.
Help Your Children Protect their Eyesight
The solution to digital eye strain is educating our children on the importance of protecting their eyes. Here are some tips from the AOA to help kids prevent digital eye strain:
- Take regular breaks from the screen— The 20-20-20 rule reminds kids to take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at something at least 20 feet away. Many kids use an electronic device for at least an hour before taking a break.
- Blink often— Blinking prevents dry eye, keeping the front surface of the eye moist
- Make font larger— Increasing font size makes reading easier
- Visit your eye doctor regularly— Comprehensive eye exams are important to maintain eye health. The AOA recommends an eye exam for all children after the age of 6 months and before age 3.
Being aware of screen time is one of the first steps in children’s eye health. Remember that when school is in session, your children may have already spent time on electronic devices in the classroom, so make sure that you count this time toward the daily total. Try an experiment and add up screen time for an entire week. It may be time to suggest some new activities into their day!