As a mom to a 18-month-old I am often asked about screen time and what I allow my son to do. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends NO screen time before 18-24 months and no more than one hour a day of for 2–5-year-olds. When I first tell this to parents, I am often met with horrified and shocked looks. I fully understand that every child and family situation is different, and no one is perfect. When it comes to screens, less is always best.
Children learn best from face-to-face interactions and imitating those closest to them. At a young age, children do not fully understand electronics. They are drawn to the bright colors and sounds but do not comprehend what is being shown to them. Even when Facetiming people they are familiar with, they do not understand what or who is on the screen. Research has shown babies do not learn from and are not stimulated by devices. That is why the AAP recommends no screen time for babies and very little before 5.
Screens and devices have become more accessible and necessary each year. Between schools relying on screens/tablets younger, video games and access to cell phones at a young age, kids are constantly surrounded by devices. It is often hard to set boundaries and offer other forms of entertainment.
Children have smaller arms and naturally hold things closer. If you are going to allow your child to watch a show, farther is better; a tv sits farther than a tablet and a tablet can be put down farther then the child holding a phone. Natural sunlight has been shown to slow progression of myopia and a benefit for growing eyes. If you have an avid reader, have them read outside. You may not be able to withhold screens all together but setting limits or scheduled breaks can go a long way.
Headaches in children are never normal but there has been an increase in the number of young children coming into the office with that complaint along with tired eyes. As mentioned above, screens are becoming more common in schools at a younger age and harder to avoid. Blue light glasses and sometimes a small reading prescription are enough to alleviate their symptoms. The blue light anti reflective has been shown to help with melatonin levels and the sleep cycle. This is true for any age. Since the COVID pandemic, more jobs have resorted to the “work-from-home” position. People who went from being on computers very little throughout the day to 8-10+ hours a day, have struggled to adapt. Common complaints we hear are “my eyes are tired or heavy”, “I get daily headaches towards the end of the day”, “I have trouble focusing far after looking up close for too long”, “my eyes burn”, etc. These are all symptoms of computer eye strain. Our eyes were not made to constantly focus up close for extended periods of time.
While using screens, we blink less often and when we do blink, they are incomplete blinks or eye flutters. If the lids do not touch when we blink, the tears are not produced and that leads to dry eye complications. Eyestrain, headaches, fluctuating vision, gritty/sandy irritation, are all symptoms of dryness. This has been seen across all ages, even elementary aged children. The 20/20/20 rule is especially important for our children. Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This allows the eyes to relax to focus for far and to naturally start blinking properly. Dry eyes are initially treated with over-the-counter artificial tears, staying hydrated and blink exercises. When the initial treatment does not work, we go into more advance treatment options.
In the end, no one is perfect and there are days when you’re exhausted and need to get things done around the house while trying to distract your little one. The main thing to remember is that less is best. Don’t make it a habit for your children to become reliant on screens. The same is true for adults. Give your eyes a break from all the near work and screen time. You can set social media limits on your phone that can help limit your screen time.
My husband and I chose to be strict with the no screens from the day our baby was born. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t use our phones or binge watch the newest tv series. We are avid sports fans, so a game is always on at our house, but our son has shown no interest in the tv. Since he was born, we have always had music playing as background sound. We often had the tv muted and were always aware if he would turn his attention towards it. If we noticed him starting to watch or fixate on it, we would turn it off and engage with him in other ways; musical toys, singing, reading, etc. We made sure that when he was awake, we weren’t focused on the screens. For us, that has seemed to work. Now, he does enjoy grabbing the remote to push buttons and see if he can turn the screen on but once on, he wanders off to play with his toys. He also loves trying to grab phones to make things move around. When he gets the phone, we give him a moment to play and then try to draw his attention towards one of his other toys.
Dr. Elena Vourvopoulos
VIP Eye Care & Optical Boutique
VIP Eye Care & Optical Boutique
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St. Petersburg, Fl. 33704
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