Many of us are spending more time in front of screens, and kids are no exception. Kids socialize on their phones and play video games, and may have spent part of the COVID-19 pandemic learning online.
The bad news: research has shown that too much screen time is unhealthy for adults and kids.
For this reason, it’s important to teach children to adopt healthy screen-time habits. Here’s how:
Problems Caused by Excessive Screen Time
So what’s wrong with spending hours gaming or watching videos? Plenty.
The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health study (2019), found that excessive screen time was linked to higher obesity rates and a tendency to eat more junk foods and exercise less.
Children who spent more than 2 hours in front of screens every day had higher rates of depression symptoms. However, it should be noted that moderate to minimal screen time seemed to have a beneficial effect on mental health compared to none.
The eyes, in particular, are adversely affected by hours in front of the screen. This occurs because screens emit blue light, which has shorter wavelengths and more energy than regular light, and the intensity of the light strains the eyes. Meanwhile, researchers are studying whether blue light is harmful to the retina, which converts light into signals that go to the brain.
Also worrying: excessive exposure to blue light can interfere with the circadian rhythm that regulates sleep patterns. The circadian rhythm is an internal clock that indicates when we should be asleep or awake. Hours of blue light exposure before going to bed can throw off these patterns and interfere with sleep.
Screen time has also been linked to higher levels of myopia in young people, according to an Anglia Ruskin University study (2021). Extensive time spent texting or watching videos on a phone led to a 30% higher risk of myopia, or nearsightedness, in young people, and combined with excessive computer use, the risk rose to 80%.
Helping Your Child Cut Back on Screen Time
It’s clear why parents should keep their child from spending too much time in front of screens. The question is how to do it. Here are some tips to help your child develop healthy habits while they’re still young, to help them preserve their mental and physical well-being and their vision.
Make rules that are clear to everyone and are easy to stick to. Think about the amount of time per day you’ll allow your children to look at a screen either for fun or to do homework, factoring in a bit extra for holidays and weekends. For instance, one hour per day during the week and two or three on the weekends. Also consider times that should be screen-free, such as during meals, before completing homework or chores or an hour or two before bedtime.
Get Into a Routine
Once you’ve decided how much screen time should be allowed, create a routine that is manageable and everyone can adhere to. Setting a structure will reduce disagreements, because everyone will know what is expected of them. It may be a good idea to write up these rules and post them close to the computer or in a family room.
For instance, you can assign each child an hour of screen time a day and ask them to sign up for specific slots. Leave the dinner hour vacant so no one is using a screen then.
Set an Example
Making rules stipulating when screen time is allowed and for how long is relatively simple, but following them can be more of a challenge. Modeling behavior can positively influence children, and they are more likely to abide by the rules if they see the adults in their lives also setting limits on screen time. Moreover, everyone working together towards the goal of limiting screen time can engender a feeling of cooperation and shared goals. Instead of texting or scrolling or watching videos, spend more time together as a family, doing things everyone enjoys.
Discuss Why Screen Time Should Be Limited
Kids should not only know what the rules are but the reasons behind them. Discuss with your child why it is important to reduce screen time, including health issues that can arise and how too much blue light can negatively affect their eyes. Knowing the purpose behind rules can make following them easier.
Encourage Physical Activity, Especially Outdoors
Your child may not miss that extra screen time if they’re engaged in fun activities that get the body moving and can improve their health. Being active is not only healthy, but develops real life friendships. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that children who spend a significant amount of time playing outdoors lower their risk of developing myopia (nearsightedness). Other studies have linked “near work,” such as reading and spending a lot of time on digital devices, to the development and progression of myopia.
Encourage your child to play outdoors for at least 30 minutes to an hour each day, with siblings, friends or as part of a sports team. Perhaps you can take a walk or a bike ride with them after work, or throw a Frisbee and help them get into the habit of having fun without screens.
If you are concerned about your child’s screen time and its effect on their eyes, schedule an eye exam with Dr. Huong Vu at Eye Care Optometry of Moreno Valley in Our practice serves patients from , , , and , California and surrounding communities. .
Q: What is the connection between blue light from screens and myopia?
- A: According to a study in the International Journal of Ophthalmology (2018) there is a link between extended exposure to blue light and nearsightedness or myopia. The reason is that blue light has a shorter wavelength and is more intense than regular light. The high frequency of blue light penetrates the front of the retina and can cause nearsightedness.
Q: What is myopia management for kids?
- A: Myopia management helps slow the progression of the eye condition through special eyeglasses, contact lenses and atropine eye drops. It also involves making lifestyle changes such as reducing screen time. The purpose is to support eyesight and improve eye health to avoid a rapid deterioration in eyesight.