Growing up, you likely heard one of several refrains in your house: “Don’t sit too close to the TV!” “Don’t spend so much time at that computer!” “Don’t make me come take that phone away from you!” As a parent, you’re always trying to do what’s right for your child, but you have to keep your sanity, too. The television was the first phase of screen time – and what came with it was a lot of concern about how much was too much. Now that we sit with screens even closer to our face, and with bad posture, the debate continues in a different form. How much screen time is too much? Is there a way to mitigate the bad effects of it? A kids’ ophthalmologist weighs in.

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What is “screen time” and “blue light exposure”?

Screen time is the time spent in front of a screen – television, computer or mobile device. Digital displays give off little or no harmful radiation; what they do is expose your eyes to blue light. The blue light you get from a digital device is less than you get from the sun, but the distance between it and our eyes, and the length of time we are exposed to it is thought to be a problem. In fact, a recent study found that children’s eyes absorbed more blue light than adults’ from screens.


Therein lies the problem. Although there are huge benefits to blue light – it makes us alert, helps memory and cognitive function, and boosts our mood – these studies have been done on sunlight. The artificial nature of blue light can disrupt our Circadian rhythms and strain our eyes. Kids’ ophthalmologists recommend against too much screen time for these reasons.


How much is too much screen time?

The immediate risks of too much screen time are not in your vision, according to our children’s ophthalmologist. Children who use screens for more than 2 hours per day – and especially at night before going to bed – have problems sleeping at night and experience drowsiness during the day at school, leading to poorer performance. The longer-term effects of poor sleep habits are even worse – mood disorders, more loneliness and lower happiness.


Parents of children using screens for more than 2 hours a day also report higher levels of headaches, neck and shoulder pain, eye strain or dry eyes, reduced attention span, poor behavior and irritability.


The long-term effects of excessive blue light exposure won’t be known for some years – but some early studies show that there could be long-term effects on retinal health and the level of macular degeneration.


What to do – a children’s ophthalmologist advises

Your 8-year-old probably doesn’t need a screen that much, but your high-schooler might, for doing various projects and keeping in touch with friends outside of class.


One thing our kids’ ophthalmologist recommends is getting lenses that filter or reduce the amount of blue light hitting your retina. This can also come in the form of an anti-reflective coating. If your child doesn’t yet wear glasses, then considering getting computer glasses for use in front of the screen. If these lenses are too expensive for your family, investing in a filter for your computer or mobile screen should do the trick.


It’s also worth monitoring when your child is using the screen. Limit screen time two hours before bed to ensure that your child’s Circadian rhythm and sleep patterns aren’t upset by too much after-hours blue light exposure. If you notice that your child is continuing to rub his or her eyes (indicating strain) or is having other problems with vision associated with screen time, stop into Pediatric Eye Associates and meet with one of our highly qualified children’s ophthalmologists. We are here to help.


The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment.  Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.