We all know too much TV is bad for our kids. So how much is too much? Where do you put a limit? How do you actually stick to the limit? Here’s a look at how much screen time is okay for your child’s eyes:
How excess / improper mobile or TV watching can be harmful:
- Dry Eyes:
When kids are staring at their favourite cartoon character, they become so engrossed, that they forget to blink. Blinking replenishes our eye’s natural tear film. When kids forget to blink, it can leave their eyes dry, irritated and red. Also, most laptops and TV screens are higher in the kids’ visual fields (than say, a book). This makes kids open their upper eyelids wider, leaving more surface area of the eye’s tear film exposed to drying.
- Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS):
Constantly staring at mobiles, laptops and TV screens, often from too short distances causes eye fatigue. Akin to the long hours spent by adults in front of their desktops, kids spend too many hours lying lazily on their tummies, staring at their tablets and smart phones that are held too close to the eye. You can imagine how tiring it would get if your kid were to walk around with his school bag the whole day… it’s similar to what your kid’s eye muscles feel when they get no rest all day! Blurry vision, headaches, dryness of eyes, light sensitivity and a sore neck are symptoms of CVS.
- Short sightedness:
Mobile phones may not directly cause your child to have short sightedness (researchers are still battling this one!) However, more screen time, means less outdoor time. Spending less time outdoors has been proven to lead to short sightedness in kids. (Read more here).
- Long term eye damage:
It is a well-known fact that excess UV light causes eye damage that can set you up for diseases like age related macular degeneration later on in life. Electronic devices give off high energy, short wavelength blue and violet light which is near UV light in wavelength and energy. Hence it is considered by some eye doctors to be harmful in the long term. Young eyes typically can focus on close objects more easily since their natural lens is clearer and smaller. This also means that more blue light gets easily transmitted on to their retina, which could cause damage.
A study conducted in 2016 by South Korean researchers in adolescents found that excess smart phone use may play a role in developing a type of squint called acute acquired comitant esotropia.
- Other problems:
Other than eye problems, excess screen time (even when you have the TV going on in the background) has been linked to many other issues like poor social skills, learning and behavioural problems.
How much Screen time is okay for my kid:
The American Academy of Paediatrics has laid down guidelines for various age groups.
- 18 months or younger: No screens are the best. Exceptions may be made for interactive video chats with family.
- 18 months to 2 years: No solo unsupervised use. Watching good quality educational programs interspersed with discussions to help understanding can be done for limited time periods.
- 2 years to 5 years: All screen time should be limited to one hour a day. Parents should accompany their kids to ensure that they understand and apply the concepts seen on the age- appropriate shows to their real world.
- 6 years or older: Screen time should not affect sleep, exercise or other behaviours. Two hours of screen time for entertainment is ideal. (This does not include time spent on researching for studies or school projects).
What Parents Can Do:
- 20 -20 – 20 rule:
This rule states that after 20 minutes of screen time, your kid should look away to a point 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Even something as simple as talking to your child in the ad break about what you saw can help your child look away from the screen and give his eyes a break. (Plus, it gives you a chance to distract your kid away from the adverts about all those junk foods!)
- Check the distances:
See to it that your TV screens are 20 to 28 inches away from your kids’ eyes. Align the top of the screen at your kid’s eye level so that they are not straining to look up at the screen.
- Limit setting:
Setting schedules, allowing binge days and helping your kids achieve a good balance will help. See to it that the screens shut off for an hour before bed time. This will prevent screen use from interfering with your kid’s sleep patterns. Not having TVs in the kids’ bedrooms will make this easier.
- No double standards, please:
When your kid is sitting on your lap and overseeing you whatsapp, that is adding to his / her screen time too! The best way to teach your kids to limit their screen time is by letting them see a great example in their mom / dad. Actions do speak louder than words.
- Plan fun alternatives:
It’s tough competition, but if you can plan activities that seem more fun than the TV cartoons, you can cut down on screen time without the tough love. Playing board games or reading out story books or just fun meal times with the entire family are good options.
- Regular eye checks:
If your kid’s eyes have already been affected by excess screen time, s/he may not know it or may not know how to verbalize it. This is why regular eye checks are important even if your child does not complain of poor eye sight.
If your kid hasn’t had an eye check yet, do schedule an appointment with your child eye specialist. Dr. Prachi Agashe is a Paediatric Ophthalmologist in Mumbai and is known for her knack with kids. To book an appointment with Dr. Prachi Agashe today, just fill out the form below. You can also get in touch via email at email@example.com or via call at 022 42435000.