A new study suggests increased time on digital devices has adversely affected children's eye health and general well-being.
Digital Device Usage Increased During Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic caused millions of children to adjust to remote learning and to depend on digital devices for their education. A recent paper published in the Journal of School Health analyzed global research studies conducted during the pandemic and discovered that children and teens have significantly increased their screen time.
Worldwide research studies found the following to be true:
- Almost 90 percent of Canadian parents said their children were exceeding the two-hour guideline suggested by health authorities.
- Average screen time for children increased by one hour per day in Germany.
- A Chilean study found preschool and toddler children averaged more than three hours per day of screen time.
- Researchers in Tunisia said children's screen time increased 111 percent.
Digital Eye Strain Tied to Health Risks
When children do not have healthy limits on screen time, their health can suffer. For example, too much time on electronic devices puts children at risk for digital eye strain, which is characterized by itchy, red, watery eyes that can feel irritated and uncomfortable. Staring at screens can also increase the likelihood of dry eye, uncorrected refractive errors and unstable binocular vision. It can also result in shoulder and neck strain and back pain.
Using digital devices can also have long-term health consequences. Because it is a passive activity, excessive screen time can cause overeating and even obesity.
"It is really important to be aware of the potential risks to children's short and long-term eye and general health. It is essential that devices are used appropriately and that activities away from digital devices are encouraged, such as playing outdoors," said lead author Professor Shahina Pardhan, director of the Vision and Eye Research Institute at Anglia Ruskin University (Medical Xpress).
Tips to Prevent Digital Eye Strain
Parents can help children set boundaries for electronic device usage. Have a conversation with your children to help them understand that screen time can affect their vision and overall health. Here are some tips for discussing with your children:
- Establish time limits for digital device usage.
- Remind children that homework on a digital device takes priority over playing online games or watching television.
- Consider limiting video games, online games and television to weekends.
- Teach your children the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at something at least 20 feet away.
Schedule Comprehensive Eye Exams for Your Family
One of the best ways to maintain healthy vision for the whole family is to schedule an annual comprehensive eye exam with dilation. Annual eye exams ensure an eye doctor can diagnose any refractive or focusing error or eye condition that could affect your child's vision.
An ophthalmologist can also provide you with suggestions on creating healthy boundaries regarding screen time. Sometimes, your kids will be more willing to take advice from their eye doctor than you!
Don't forget to also make an eye exam for yourself. A yearly checkup is essential for diagnosing common eye diseases like cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.
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