Whether tablet, smartphone or T.V., screens are ubiquitous, and kids are spending more time than ever looking at them. Leemor Rotberg, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmologist with Children’s Eye Care (CEC), says parents regularly ask her about the woes of screen time when it comes to their kids’ eye health.
“The short answer is that there isn’t a lot of definitive research out there yet to dictate a specific amount of time that kids should or shouldn’t be looking at screens,” Dr. Rotberg says.
Her advice to parents of very small children is to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics‘ recommendation of no screen time for kids under age 2. Dr. Rotberg encourages parents to remind older kids to take a visual break every 20 minutes that they are looking at a screen.
“While there are no studies that conclusively point to effects of extended ‘near work’ on screens, I have seen some things in my practice that make me wonder about related focus issues,” she says. “When we are looking at something up close for an extended period, we forget to blink. Blinking is important because it forces us to change our focus.”
While Dr. Rotberg stresses that it’s not been proven that there are visual effects to extended screen time, she has some concerns about all of that time spent focusing up close. Among them is a potentially increased chance of needing reading glasses. “This is not typical,” she says. “It’s unusual for kids to need reading glasses.”
Essentially, Dr. Rotberg says moderation is key. “I know how hard it can be for kids to avoid screen time,” she says. “I have two young kids myself who often have school work to complete that involves looking at a screen. So help remind your kids to take visual breaks where they have to look up at something at a distance. Ultimately, this will help them change their focus.”