The inception of tablets in the home means the amount of screen time children receive is higher than the generations before. Many children are able to work their parents’ phones before they’re able to speak in full sentences. They ask to play games, watch videos, or talk with friends. But what effect does all this screen time have on them?
There’s been research to show that prolonged use of screens can affect children negatively in a myriad of ways. There’s issues with lack of physical exercise and obesity, as well as the dangers of children taking in media without parental knowledge. But some of the latest research has shown that prolonged time in front of a screen could be having a negative impact on children’s eyes across an entire generation.
Between 1972 and 2004, the number of myopia cases (those with nearsightedness) doubled. And that number continues to increase. Some experts state that the rate of myopia would qualify as an epidemic.
Myopia in itself may not sound like a huge problem. Glasses are a fairly commonplace sight in the 21st century and most children can adapt to using them fairly quickly. But this nearsightedness comes with other dangers. Myopia increases the risk in major ocular problems, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal tearing. Many of the ocular diseases can lead to severe or total vision loss. The more nearsighted a patient is, the greater the risk that they could lose their eyesight entirely.
With the problem growing to epidemic proportions, experts have been looking into technology as a cause. It is not simply the act of looking at a phone or tablet that can cause myopia though. In many cases, the situations the screens are in can compound their affect. For example, staring at a tablet in a room lit with fluorescent lighting. The use of electronics is usually an indoor activity, robbing the eyes of the natural light that helps prevent myopia.
Studies have also shown that the closer a device is to the face, the more likely it is to lead to myopia. A traditional computer, laptop or a TV placed farther away from the eyes has less effect, whereas phones and tablets held close to the face can cause greater harm. A child’s eyes needs the chance to focus on objects farther away to develop that ability. But the current ecosystem, where children remain indoors with tablets and phones close to their faces, is robbing their eyes of the chance to grow.
So what can be done to prevent myopia and other vision problems in children? Experts suggest to keep all technology out of the hands of children younger than two years old. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 should have an hour a day at most. Two minute breaks after 30 minutes of use can help lessen the effects. Children should also be outside in the daylight for 45 minutes a day. Even in the colder months, the sunlight can be helpful in keeping their eyes healthy. There may be options for glasses with anti-myopia lenses, that could decelerate the process by up to 30%.
Screens may be everywhere. They’ll usually find their way into a child’s hands. But for the sake of their sight, take care. They can always get back to the game they were playing another day. But the eyesight lost from myopia can never be regained.