Could the Extra Screen Time Be Causing Vision Problems for Kids?

Here's how to protect your child's eyes in spite of all the extra time we're all spending on our iPhones and computers.

Rest assured that the screen itself isn't causing eye damage, but holding any object too close to your face, whether a tablet or a book, has been linked to an increase in myopia (or nearsightedness, as it's commonly known). To reduce the risk, have your kid keep their device at least 18 to 24 inches away and stick to the 20-20-20 rule. "This means that every 20 minutes, you take a 20-second break to look 20 feet away," says Rupa K. Wong, M.D., an ophthalmologist at Honolulu Eye Clinic, in Hawaii. "This resets the eyes' focusing muscles and helps ward off fatigue and strain." Then get outside. It's been shown as one of the most helpful ways to slow nearsightedness in kids as young as 5, so take a trip to the playground or simply stare up at the clouds.

And remind your kid to blink! Eyes rely on this motion to pump out tears, which lubricate their surface. But when looking at a screen, our blink rate decreases from about 40 blinks a minute to only about eight. "I have my kids use artificial-tear eye drops before a distance-learning session," says Dr. Wong. "We also take a break every couple of hours to go on a walk or ride bikes."

kid sitting holding tablet device
Amy Postle

While you might be tempted to order a pair of blue-light glasses for your kid, no studies have shown that they decrease a child's nearsightedness or protect against future eye conditions, says Dr. Wong. (The glasses can decrease sleep disruption caused by a screen's blue light, but ideally your kid shouldn't be on a device before bed anyway.) A new FDA-approved contact lens called MiSight 1 Day has been shown to slow the progression of myopia in kids ages 8 to 12. If your child is nearsighted, you might consider talking to their eye doctor about this option at their next exam.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's October 2020 issue as "Could all this extra screen time—for both school and fun—damage my kid's vision?." Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here

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