The past generation of children has spent more and more time using technology for nearly every part of life. In fact, the numbers are startling. This study found children a year old spend up to 53 minutes per day in front of a screen, and by the age of 3, they spend nearly 2.5 hours each day.
From entertainment to education, technology is a utility in young people’s lives. While there are numerous benefits to that technology, excessive screen time can have a negative impact on children’s vision. Whether it’s smartphones, tables, computers, or video games, there is growing concern about the harm these screens have on children and their sight. By understanding some of the impacts of technology, there are measures parents and other caregivers can take to protect the eye health of children.
Digital eye strain and fatigue in children’s vision
Extended use of digital devices like smartphones, tablets, or computers can lead to digital eye strain, also known as computer vision syndrome (CVS). Symptoms of CVS can include eye fatigue, blurry vision, dry eyes, headaches, and neck and shoulder pain.
According to an article from WebMD, CVS is akin to carpel tunnel syndrome. Just like other repetitive motion injuries, CVS can happen because the eyes “follow the same path over and over.” The more the eye movement continues along the same path, the worse the syndrome becomes. When children look at screens, their eyes have to work harder to focus and refocus, which can lead to muscle strain and fatigue.
Technology can lead to myopia development in children
Research has shown a correlation between increased screen time and the development of myopia, or nearsightedness, in children. Excessive use of digital devices, particularly at a young age, may contribute to the progression of myopia. The constant focusing on nearby objects, such as when using smartphones or tablets, can lead to the elongation of the eyeball, resulting in myopic vision. Myopia can significantly impact a child’s ability to see distant objects clearly, which can eventually lead to the need for corrective lenses.
Impact on Visual Development
The visual system of young children is still developing, and excessive screen time can interfere with this natural process. It’s not just the development of eyesight that is impacted in children. From brain development, to building relationships, to developing healthy habits from a young age, too much time in front of the screen can impact all sorts of important physical and mental health. In terms of sight, prolonged exposure to digital screens may impede the development of important visual skills, such as eye teaming, focusing, and hand-eye coordination. Limiting the time children spend on digital devices is one of the most important steps parents and caregivers can take to make sure vision development progresses as it should without unnecessary disruptions.
How to reduce impact of technology on children’s vision
There are a number of ways to help reduce the impact of technology on children's vision, starting with basic discipline. While screens and technology are convenient ways to entertain children, the habits created at a young age can last a lifetime. While that doesn’t mean technology should be avoided, one strategy is to encourage regular breaks during screen time. Other ideas are to make sure children maintain an appropriate viewing distance from screens. Adjusting the brightness and contrast of devices can help reduce eye strain. Then there’s the time away from screens. The more parents and caregivers can encourage outdoor activities, the easier it is to minimize overall screen time and support healthy visual development in children.
Screens are not going away, and children will continue to use them, especially in education. In order to help children develop healthy vision, though, it’s important to understand the risks associated with excessive screen time. That will help balance the benefits of technology with the preservation of children’s eye health.