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It’s no secret that our eyes work extra hard when we use digital devices. Anyone can experience eye dryness, blurred vision, or headaches after long stretches of screen time. But children in particular can spend hours glued to screens without breaks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls for no screen time for children under age 2 and says kids ages 2 to 5 should get an hour of screen time per day at most. It also suggests restrictions for school-age children to help protect their eyes and lessen their risk for attention problems, anxiety, and depression.
With digital learning becoming a significant part of children's lives, educating them about eye health is crucial. Try the five-step BLINK 20-20-20 strategy to help prevent screens from damaging children’s eyes and vision.
B - BLINK
Blinking is an essential action that keeps our eyes moisturized and clean. We're so focused on what we’re reading or watching during long stretches of screen use that we tend to blink far less. Remind your children to blink regularly while using electronics to help keep their eyes moist and healthy.
Teach grade-schoolers using screens for homework the 20-20-20 rule to rest their eyes: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Use a timer to help younger kids remember this rule, but older children should be able to manage it without a timer.
L - LUBRICATE
Use lubricating eye drops, also called artificial tears, throughout the day. They’re safe in children and can be used up to six times a day for comfort. If you need to apply it more often, a preservative-free tear is best and has fewer risks for irritation. If your house is dry, consider using a humidifier.
I - INCHES AWAY
Unlike adults, most children don’t know when their eyes need a break or whether their screens are too bright or too close. Remind them to keep their screen 18 to 24 inches from their eyes. Holding the device too close can cause digital eye strain, a term that describes tech-related vision problems. This condition, also called computer vision syndrome, can particularly intensify stress on near vision.
Keep the computer or desk an arm’s length away and at a slight downward angle from your child's face. Adjust the computer screen's settings contrast and brightness to make it comfortable for your children. Avoid using electronics outside or in brightly lit areas and maintain good posture. Poor posture can contribute to headaches and muscle tightness linked to eye strain.
N - NEAR DEVICE BREAKS
Playing outside isn’t just good for your physical and mental health. The AAP says that spending as much time outdoors as possible helps your eyes readjust. Encourage children to play outside with a pet, sibling, or non-electronic toys. Remind them to take breaks every 20 minutes to eat a healthy snack or look out the window. Ensure that children wear sunglasses that can block 99% or 100% of UVA and UVB radiation from the sun. And remind them to never look directly at the sun.
K - KNOW YOUR SOURCES
Consult your child’s pediatrician or pediatric ophthalmologist if you have questions about your child’s eye health or need help building positive digital habits to safeguard your child’s eyes. You can also look up information from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.
Most adults instinctively adjust the screen brightness or position if their eyes itch or get tired, but children often overlook such signals. Establishing screen use guidelines can mitigate potential issues related to vision and posture. It can also help your child understand what's appropriate and allowed on school nights and weekends. Consider creating tech-free zones in your house and setting limits on device use, such as no electronics in bedrooms, during meals, or before bedtime. All children need routine vision checks and eye exams with their pediatrician or family doctor. Call your pediatrician if your child is due for a physical or if you have questions or concerns about their vision or viewing habits.
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NEI for Kids | National Eye Institute (nih.gov)
Screen Use for Kids - American Academy of Ophthalmology (aao.org)
Beyond Screen Time: Help Your Kids Build Healthy Media Use Habits - HealthyChildren.org
Impact of computer use on children's vision - PMC (nih.gov)
Are Screens Making our Children’s Eyes Worse? (nichq.org)
Analysis of blink rate patterns in normal subjects - PubMed (nih.gov)
Computer Vision Syndrome (Digital Eye Strain) - EyeWiki (aao.org)
Eye Care | Vision Care | MedlinePlus
Screen time and children: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia