Protecting Your Child From Digital Eye Strain

Dr. Russel Lazarus, November 30, 2020

How does digital eye strain affect children?

In recent years, there has been a significant surge in the amount of time children spend in front of the screen.

Digital devices, including computers, televisions, smart phones, tablets, and gaming devices are not only being used by adults, but by children as young as two and three years old.

Digital eye strain can be caused by a range of visual problems, including Binocular Visual Dysfunction.

If your child shows any of the signs of eye strain, schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor near you.

How common is Digital Eye Strain?

According to recent studies:

  • Approximately 42% of young children have their own tablet device. 
      • This is a drastic increase when compared to statistics from only four years ago when only 7% of young children had their own tablet device.
  • An estimated 50% of children under age 9 “often or sometimes” have screen time in the hour before bedtime.

In past years, parents would worry about how much TV their children were watching on a daily basis. Now, with remote learning becoming more common and smartphone use more prevalent among children, not only is overexposure to TV and movies a growing concern, but the constant and continuous use of digital devices has caused a new hysteria among both parents and eye doctors.

Parent surveys were conducted in the year 2020, during the COVID-19 outbreak when remote learning and social distancing caused many children to turn to digital devices for both educational, social, and entertainment purposes.

According to these studies:

  • 28% of parents reported that their children spend 4 to 5 hours per day on a digital device.
  • 17% of parents reported that their children spend 8 to 9 hours per day on a digital device.
  • 9% of parents reported that their children spend more than 9 hours per day on a digital device.

While there are many benefits of digital technology, such as education, entertainment and communication, overexposure and prolonged use of these devices can also have detrimental effects on your child’s eyes and vision.

With the increased prevalence of digital technology, eye doctors are now reporting a major increase in the amount of children diagnosed with digital eye strain.

Digital eye strain can cause many physical symptoms, including:

  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Burning or stinging in the eyes
  • Dry eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Irritated eyes
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Neck and shoulder pain

If you suspect your child has an eye condition, contact an eye doctor near you who can diagnose and treat the condition.

SEE RELATED: The Effects of COVID-19 On Your Child’s Vision

Find an eye doctor for children near you

How to protect your child from digital eye strain

1. Set limits on screen time

Children are not always able to set their own limits and usually look to their parents to provide appropriate boundaries.

It is important to establish a time limit for daily digital device use — and follow through with it.

According to the U.S. Department of Health:

  • Children under two years of age should not be exposed to screens at all. At this age, vision is still developing and screen time can inhibit their exposure to other types of visual stimulation necessary for healthy vision development.
  • Children ages 3 to 4 should be limited to an hour of screen time per day. 
  • Children older than 4 should be limited to two hours of screen time per day.  

The more hours a child spends in front of the screen, the greater their risk of developing symptoms of digital eye strain.

2. Teach the 20-20-20 rule

Digital eye strain can be caused by focusing fatigue, or staring at the computer screen or tablet for too long.

While your child is watching TV or using a digital device, try to remind them every 20 minutes to look at something in the distance (at least 20 feet away) for around 20 seconds.

This is a rule that should be followed during any type of near vision activity as it helps to relax the eye muscles and prevent eye strain. 

If your child is old enough, teach them to practice this rule by themselves, without needing constant reminders.

3. Blink frequently

According to research, people blink less frequently when staring at a computer screen. Reduced blink rate can lead to dry, sore eyes, as well as eye fatigue.

Remind your children to blink often while sitting in front of a screen, to help keep their eyes moist and healthy.

4. Keep a distance

It is not uncommon to walk into the room and find your child sitting with their face up against the screen as they watch their favorite TV show.  This habit is not only harmful for their eyes, but can also cause digital eye strain and uncomfortable symptoms — which are usually only felt as soon as you tell them their screen time is up!

Educate your children on the importance of distancing themselves from their device, keeping the screen at least 18-24 inches away from their eyes. 

5. Adjust screen settings

Adjust the settings of your child’s digital device to help minimize eye strain and fatigue.

  • Adjust the brightness of the screen so it’s similar to the brightness of the room.
  • Adjust text color and size— black text on a white background is known to be easiest on the eyes.
  • Adjust the color temperature of the screen to “warmer” colors such as red and orange to reduce blue light emission, which can also cause eye strain.

6. Teach proper posture

With E-learning becoming more and more popular these days, children are being required to sit in front of the computer screen for many hours during the day.

Without proper posture, a day of remote learning can lead to neck, back and shoulder pain— common symptoms of digital eye strain.

To prevent this, make sure that your child’s desk and chair are at a comfortable height so their feet can rest on the floor. If their feet don’t reach the floor, a stool under the desk is a great solution.

It is also important to ensure that their computer screen is positioned just below eye level so that they don’t strain their neck while staring at the screen.

Lastly, to reduce muscle tension, encourage your child to take frequent breaks away from the computer to stretch and walk around.

When to see an eye doctor

If your child is complaining of headaches, blurred vision, sore eyes, or any other symptoms following prolonged screen time, it is a good idea to schedule an eye exam with an optometrist experienced in treating children with eye strain and binocular visual dysfunction.

In many cases, digital eye strain is a temporary condition that can be alleviated by making some behavioral and lifestyle changes. In other cases, a functional vision problem may be identified as the underlying cause of your child’s symptoms.

LEARN MORE: Guide to Children’s Eye Exams

If your child shows any of the signs above, schedule an appointment  with eye doctor near you.

Your child may be diagnosed with reduced functional vision, and a program of vision therapy could help to improve their vision and enhance their screen time experience.