Video screens are now part of everyday life for all ages, especially children and young adults. Between computer screens for school work, smart boards in the classroom, video games on the computer or on the television screen, and watching TV, kids have screens in front of them all day long. Some kids are tuned into cartoons just to make the ride to school every morning. So, this question comes up often – “is this a problem for my child’s eyes?”
Well, the simple answer is “no”, it’s not. Contrary to popular belief, sitting too close to the television, starting too long at the computer screen or video games, smart phones, and hand held games, does not harm the eyes. Parents are often surprised at this answer. But studies have shown that prolonged use of these devices does not harm the eyes.
However…..it’s important to understand that this is not a green light for spending even more time staring at a screen. There are other issues than can develop such as:
- Dryness – with concentration the blink rate decreases. As such, the eyes can become dry and uncomfortable. Eye drops that replace moisture can be used to bring relief to dry, irritated eyes.
- Headaches – Eyes tend to focus harder than needed to keep the image on the screen clear. This over-focusing can bring on temple or behind-the-eye headaches. The remedy for this is to take breaks.
- Eyestrain – as an object is held closer to the eyes, the eye muscles have to bring the eyes in together to focus on the object up close. Since the hand-held devices are held very close, there is more demand on the eye muscles to keep the eyes focused together. Some kids may have trouble with this skill and will suffer eyestrain and fatigue. These same symptoms may be present with reading and writing as well. If so, it’s very important to have the child evaluated by an optometrist who specializes in pediatrics. In these cases, eyeglasses and/or vision training may be indicated.
Just in case your child reads this answer, I am not advocating that children spend more time looking at video screens. Yes, they may need to use them for their school work. And yes, it’s OK to have some fun playing video games. But there are other reasons why children need to limit their time on these devices. They need to have fun other ways. Childhood obesity has been linked to time spent playing video games. Likewise, children who spend less time playing video games tend to have better social skills and character development. And there’s the issue of violence in video games desensitizing children to consequences of violent behavior.
Children should have limited time on video screens to avoid eyestrain, headaches, and other problems associated with prolonged use. Getting off the couch, playing outside, riding the bike, building a fort, and playing dress up, are all better alternatives.