Devices: How much is too much for their eyes?

Some of the most common “nagging” I heard as a child included “don’t sit so close to the TV!” and “don’t read in the dark!” followed by “you’ll hurt your eyes!”. Fast forward a couple of decades, multiple pairs of glasses and one laser eye surgery later, I now know that it wasn’t so much “nagging” as it was “advice”. But don’t tell my Mom I admitted that!

Despite all of the technological advances these days, the sight-related advice still includes the distance from which kids view the (now) endless options of devices, but also time spent using said devices.

20/20 EyeCare‘s Dr. Kim Elcheshen and Gillian Robinson give us some tips on how to protect the developing eyes of our children in such a device-focused world.

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Q: What do you think is the biggest difference with the way kids use their eyes now vs one or even two decades ago?

A: Screen usage has changed from television viewing, to the family or school computer, to laptops, to hand held video game devices, and now on tablets and smartphones; the distance a child is viewing their screen device has gotten closer and the length of time spent is longer. This change in use requires more effort by the eyes to focus and maintain clear vision. This has led to an increase in the detection of vision problems as well as an increase in visual symptoms in those even with normal vision.

How do we ensure kids aren’t spending too much time on their devices?

Setting screen time rules could assist in limiting usage. A few simple steps include having screen time take place in common areas in the home or with the use of parental controls. Parents can also help by modelling good habits with their own screen device usage. Eliminate background TV use, do not eat in front of the screens, and suggest other activities. Screen time should be balanced out with a variety of other childhood activities such as outdoor, creative and quiet play.

What are the common signs of eye strain in kids? 

Complaints of headaches, eyestrain, blurred vision and eye irritation are often reported during or shortly after screen time. These symptoms are common with a condition referred to as Computer Vision Syndrome. Signs parents might also look out for include excessive blinking, eye rubbing, tearing, squinting and redness of the eyes. Of course these signs and symptoms are not exclusive to screen use and therefore you should consult with a Doctor of Optometry to determine whether Computer Vision Syndrome is to blame or whether another vision or ocular health problem may be the cause. All kids should have an annual comprehensive eye exam throughout their school-aged years.

What is a good piece of advice for kids to protect their eyes on their own?

All screen users, not just kids, should be following the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes take at least a 20 second break by focusing your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.

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20/20 EyeCare is a full-service optometry practice providing comprehensive eye exams, contact lens services, and an optical boutique with the latest styles and fashions for all ages, and are dedicated to your eye health. They are located at 853 Dakota Street in the heart of south St. Vital, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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