So is it really bad for your kid to sit too close to the TV? Our expert explains what you should believe when it comes to protecting your kid’s eyes.
child wearing blue striped dress sitting beneath tent holding magnifying glass
Credit: Priscilla Gragg

“Don’t sit so close to the TV—you’re gonna burn your eyes out!” That’s what your own parents may have said to you as you played Super Mario Bros. as a child. But was their fear really warranted?

Richard Golden, M.D., chairman of the public information committee for the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, explains what you should believe when it comes to protecting your own kid’s peepers.

Will screens really damage my child’s eyesight?

The truth: A screen won’t harm your kid’s eyes, but it may cause them to feel dry and strained. The bright light makes it harder for anyone’s eyes to focus, and we blink less when staring at our phone or a computer. Plus, the eyes’ natural focus is for distance, so when a screen is brought closer to your child’s face, her eyes need to work harder, which can lead to strain and contribute to headaches. Encourage her to keep her device at a comfortable reading distance, like 12 to 16 inches away, whenever she’s using it.

If you’re worried about blue light, Dr. Golden says it would take many years of extended exposure to cause serious damage. At this point in your child’s life, ultraviolet light is a bigger concern, so have her wear sunglasses and a hat when she’s outside.

Does my kid really need to visit an eye doctor every year?

The truth: Your child’s pediatrician should screen him for various eye conditions and vision problems during his regular well-child visits starting at birth, but he doesn’t need to see an ophthalmologist unless there is an issue. The pediatrician will check his eye movements, tracking, and pupil response, and once he’s 3 or 4 years old, she’ll also test his ability to match figures or read letters on a chart. If at any point she is concerned about his vision, she’ll refer him to an eye doctor for further testing or to get glasses.

Of course, if you ever notice that your child is rubbing his eyes a lot, has eye discharge, is sensitive to light, or is squinting, check in with his pediatrician sooner.

Are carrots really the best food to strengthen vision?

The truth: Carrots contain vitamin A, which supports healthy eyesight. (So do green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach.) But these veggies won’t improve your child’s vision if she needs glasses. While you don’t need to serve anything special for her eyes, you should offer fresh produce anyway for her overall well-being.

I have terrible eyesight. Does that mean my child will too?

The truth: Genetics is tricky. Think of it like height: If you and your partner are tall, your child will likely be tall, too, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be the exact height as either of you. Similarly, if you’re nearsighted or farsighted or have astigmatism, there’s a good chance your child will as well, to some degree. Other factors, such as severe prematurity or corneal abnormalities, can also play a role in your child’s need for glasses, but genetics is by and large the biggest culprit, says Dr. Golden.

Parents Magazine