By: Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker, physician consultant at Blue Cross Blue Shield of MichiganDr. Gina Lynem-Walker
A national survey found U.S. teens spend about nine hours in front of screens every day – often longer than the time they spend sleeping. Unfortunately, research also shows those who frequently use screened devices display signs of eye problems earlier in life. “Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month” in August informs families how they can keep little ones safe from vision issues that may result from things like prolonged screen time.
How Much is Too Much?
Many of the biggest health concerns regarding smart devices are vision-related. The blue light emitted from digital devices can strain the eyes, causing them to age prematurely. In fact, The National Eye Institute found the frequency of myopia, also known as near-sightedness, has significantly increased in Americans over the last few decades. It’s also common for children and adults to experience computer vision syndrome (CVS) from dim lighting, glare, poor posture and short viewing distances.
To avoid eye injuries, children ages six and up should spend most of their time participating in activities outside of digital media. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children between the ages of two and five be limited to one hour of screen time per day. Seek immediate care if a child frequently displays any of the following symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
- Dry eye
- Frequently rubbing eyes
- Neck and back pain
- Squeezing eyes
- Tilting or turning head to look at objects
- Wandering eyes
Tips to Manage Screen Time
Though it may seem challenging, there are ways to monitor a child’s screen time and encourage breaks from technology throughout the day. Consider the following:
- Designate a Devices Drawer: Make it a family rule to keep all phones, tablets and other screened devices in a drawer during specific periods of the day–especially bedtime. Along with straining the eyes, extended periods of screen time can inhibit the production of melatonin and disrupt the body’s natural sleeping pattern.
- Find a Screen-Free Family Activity: Plan activities that don’t require screens. Trips to the library, playing a board game or cooking together are great ways to distract everyone from their devices. By disconnecting, the family can improve communication and bond over new experiences.
- Go Back to Basics: A smart device does just about everything, but sometimes it helps to go back to the days when devices served one purpose. As a family, encourage everyone to eliminate screens if there are other means of doing something. For example, reading a hard copy of a book rather than scrolling on a tablet, or writing in a journal rather than posting on social media.
- Make Mealtime Memorable: Research shows eating while watching TV can fuel screen addiction and even lead to weight gain from mindless eating. During mealtime, place devices in another room to better engage in face-to-face conversation. When dining out, leave devices at home and bring games to keep the kids engaged. By doing this, families are able to have more meaningful conversations with one another, and it can even reduce behavioral problems in children.
- Make Screen Time Safer: When screen time is inevitable, families can avoid digital eye strain by adjusting screen brightness, keeping devices at eye level, increasing text size and blinking often. Experts also recommend taking a 20-20-20 break, or 20-second breaks every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away.
- Schedule Family Eye Checks: The American Optometric Association recommends young people have their eyes checked periodically throughout childhood and every two years as adults. Scheduling regular appointments will not only lead to a healthier family, but also set a good example for kids to be mindful of their eye health throughout adulthood.
Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker is a physician consultant Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan provider. For more health tips and information on member tools, visit www.Mibluesperspectives.com.
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