Give Your Son’s Eyes a Screen-Time Break

With COVID-19 and a shift to online learning, children are spending even more time looking at screens. Screen time limits are also being increased in many families to help children stay entertained and socialize with friends virtually, as they spend more time at home to prevent the spread of the virus. All of this makes it especially important to take steps that can help prevent tired, sore eyes in children.

At SJB we are mindful of the amount of screen time your sons are being exposed to.

There are various guidelines and publications covering the matter and below are some practical tips to follow.

Why screen breaks are important 

Staring at a screen for long stretches without taking breaks can cause symptoms such as:

  • Eye fatigue
    Muscles around the eye, like any others, can get tired from continued use. Concentrating on a screen for extended periods can cause concentration difficulties and headaches centred around the temple and eyes. Children may also use screen devices where lighting is less than ideal, causing fatigue from squinting.
  • Blurry vision 
    Gazing at the same distance for an extended time can cause the eye’s focusing system to spasm or temporarily “lock up.” This condition, called an accommodation spasm, causes a child’s vision to blur when he or she looks away from the screen. Some studies also suggest computer use and other close-up indoor activities may fuel rising rates of myopia (nearsightedness) among children, although this is not yet proven. More time playing outside may result in healthier vision development in children.
  • Dry eyes 
    Studies show that people blink significantly less often when concentrating on a digital screen, which can leave eyes dry and irritated. Desktop and laptop computer use can be especially tough on children’s eyes, because they’re usually situated higher up in the visual field than a book, for example. As a result, the upper eyelids tend to be open wider—speeding up the evaporation of the eye’s tear film.

What parents can do:

  • Monitor screen time
    Two especially important aspects of this are making sure screens don’t cut into: 
    • Sleep
      Not getting sufficient sleep leads to tired, sore eyes. It is recommended children not sleep with devices in their bedrooms, including TVs, computers and smartphones. In addition, avoid exposure to screens for 1 hour before going to bed. Using devices past bedtime, especially for video games or shows, can interfere with sleep. Studies also suggest the blue light given off by screens might also make it difficult to sleep.
    • Exercise
      Putting down the device or stepping away from the computer or TV can help avoid eye and vision problems from too much screen time. It is recommended that children age 6 years and older get at 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Active play is the best exercise for young children. Outside play can also be a great “workout” for children’s vision—giving them a chance to focus at different distances and getting exposure to natural sunlight.

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  • Take frequent breaks
    Children frequently get so absorbed in what they’re doing that they don’t notice symptoms of eye strain. Remind them to take breaks. Some opticians recommend the 20/20/20 rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. In addition, children should walk away from the screen for at least 10 minutes every hour. A simple timer can help your son remember, and there are even software programs can help by turning off the screen at regular intervals.
  • Remember to blink
    Research says staring at a computer can cut blinking rates by half and cause dry eyes. Encourage your child to try to blink more, especially when they take breaks. Moisturizing eye drops or a room humidifier is recommended if your son continues to be bothered by dry eyes.
  • Screen positioning
    Make sure the screen on your son’s desktop or laptop computer is slightly below eye level. Looking up at a screen opens eyes wider and dries them out quicker. Some experts suggest positioning device screens based on the 1/2/10 rule: mobile phones ideally at one foot, desktop devices and laptops at two feet, and roughly 10 feet for TV screens (depending on how big the screen is). Adjusting the font size—especially on smaller screens—so it’s twice as big as your child can comfortably read may also help reduce eye fatigue.
  • Spotlight on lighting
    To cut down on glare and eye fatigue, a study published in Journal of Ophthalmology & Research says the level of lighting in a room when using a computer or other screen should be roughly half what it would be for other activities such as writing on paper or working on crafts. Try to position computers so that light from uncovered windows, lamps and overhead light fixtures aren’t shining directly on screens. Decrease the brightness of the screen to a more comfortable level for viewing. Some optometrists recommend special computer glasses with orange lenses that may also help reduce glare. Children who wear prescription eyeglasses may have an anti-reflective coating added, as well. Computer monitor hoods or shades that attach to the screen may also be an option.