Twenty years ago, parents and physicians didn’t have many concerns about a child’s eyesight relating to prolonged screen time. While television was often believed to strain one’s eyes, most kids and teens were content to play outside and only had to wear vision correction if it was their genetic destiny.
Now that tablets and smartphones have become the norm for nearly everyone, the idea of screen time and how it affects one’s eyes has received major attention. Studies show that adults spend the bulk of their day in front of a screen, but what’s even more surprising is that younger individuals, even down to 2 years of age, are staring at a screen for several hours each day.
How does this level of device usage relate to the health of a growing person’s eyes? The findings might surprise you.
Our eyes grow right along with us as we develop into an adult, and while some children are lucky enough to never need vision correction, others find that their eyes tend to change shape as they age. When a person can’t see far away, it’s called myopia and is triggered by the elongation of one’s eye.
Studies have shown that children who spend seven or more hours per week on a screen, whether it’s a computer or mobile device, had three times the risk of developing myopia compared to their peers. But it’s not just the screen only that’s causing the problem, as device usage typically means staying indoors. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is triggered by sunlight, and actually prevents the eye from elongating, meaning that playing outdoors almost works to offset indoor screen time.
It’s not just the concern over needing glasses that has adults worried about their child’s use of mobile devices. Using a tablet or smartphone often involves a hunched over type of posture, leading to neck and shoulder strain that youngsters just shouldn’t have. Prolonged screen use also contributes to dry eye symptoms, creating redness and blurry vision as we naturally blink less when using these devices.
Children and teens who regularly use electronic devices are also being regularly exposed to blue light, one of the wavelengths that’s emitted by a screen. While blue light is around us all the time, this intense dose from a mobile device can lead to eye damage including irritation and retinal issues.
Blue light also affects melatonin production, causing a disruption in our normal sleep-wake cycles. Not only do growing adolescents need adequate amounts of sleep for their overall well-being, but having their rest affected by blue light can lead to difficulties in school due to exhaustion. Prolonged issues with sleep can lead to cancer and depression, among other concerns, down the line.
What Can We Do?
Some experts may stand in a place of banning all mobile devices from adolescents until they reach adulthood, but in today’s day and age, that’s not quite realistic. Instead, limiting screen time to 20 or 30 minutes a day can make an impactful change, especially when children are encouraged to play outside in the sunshine.
It’s recommended that screen time is enjoyed during the day instead of before bed, allowing for a natural production of melatonin. Lastly, speaking with children about the importance of their eye health can have a surprisingly positive effect, making the job of parents and physicians that much easier.