Screen Time and Children’s Eye Safety

If you are worried about your children spending too much time on screens, you are not alone. Before the stay at home order and the COVID-19 Pandemic, 71% of parents admitted to being worried about screen time and damage to their children’s eyes. Now that schools are remote or hybrid, many parents are relaxing their rules around the amount of time children can watch video games and TV. With the colder fall weather, many children are spending less time outdoors. 

This combination of more screen time and less outdoor time may harm children’s vision and put them at higher risk of developing myopia or near-sightedness. In the last 40 years, the number of children who suffer with Myopia has increase by 25%. If left untreated, myopia can lead to a higher propensity for developing serious eye diseases later in life, including myopic macular degeneration, retinal detachment, cataracts and glaucoma.

More time in front of screens can cause early aging for children’s eyes, and cause damage to sleep patterns. Especially for toddlers, it is critical that blue light exposure stops long before bedtime. Luckily, there are ways to protect children’s eyes!

Keep a Safe Distance:

  • Previously, it was recommended that eyes be 16 inches away from screens, now experts say that 10 to 12 inches are okay. Don’t forget that it is okay to increase the size of the text on the screen and adjust the brightness of the screen as necessary.
  • It is important not to be too far away, so the eyes can remain relaxed and are not strained.
  • Keep the devices at eye level of a little before to prevent children from having to look up at the device.
  • The Global Myopia Awareness Coalition suggests that children place an elbow on the table and then rest their head in that hand. From this position, they should lift their elbow and touch the screen; that is now the closest working distance they should be from their device.
  • This distance is not only for when children are on the computer for school, be sure phones, tablets and TV’s are far enough away from your child’s eyes.

Take Breaks: Use the 20 – 20 – 20 Rule

  • Take a 20 second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away. This will give your eyes a break and allow them to return to their natural position.
  • In addition to taking short breaks throughout the day, take long breaks at night and limit screen time after schoolwork and homework is done.
  • While we still have some time in the warm weather, try to go outside and enjoy the weather. The breaks in screen time along with the lighting outside can be a significant help to preventing damage to eyesight.

Watch for signs of vision issues:

  • Headaches, excessive blinking, eye rubbing, and a child feeling tired or cranky are potential warning signs that they are having vision trouble.
  • Adjust the brightness of the screen to avoid glares and never use digital devices outside.
  • Dry eyes can also be a sign to look for. When looking at a digital device, people blink far less often, and it might be important to remind children to blink while looking at their device.

Don’t skip vision screenings:

  • Children need to have their eyes checked once a year to identify any issues and prevent them from getting worse.
  • Access to needed vision services is  also a concern especially during this time. Vision screening typically occurs for most children at school—which likely cannot occur during the health crisis.
  • If you are concerned about your child’s vision, please contact your local School’s Health Office or local Health Department. Johns Hopkins Medicine and Baltimore City Government have partnered to create Vision For Baltimore as a resource for city school aged children.

As always, feel free to call our Parenting HelpLine at 1-800-243-7337 with questions or concerns about safe sleep, tummy time, and SIDS.


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