Child having screen time on a tablet

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending children under age 5, spend one hour or less on digital devices and those under age 1 spend no time at all on a daily basis. The WHO study refers to sedentary screen time, which includes watching television or videos, or playing computer games.

Screen Time Recommendations by Age

Infant (less than 1 year of age) Screen time is not recommended
1-2 years of age No screen time for a 1-year-old. No more than one hour for a 2-year-old, with less time preferred
3-4 years of age No more than one hour

Developing the ability to “use” vision starts at birth, says Glen Steele, O.D., professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, TN. When a baby watches a parent form words or point to objects, their actions lead to development of a baby’s “looking” process, which fosters their internal curiosity, he says. That curiosity leads to the baby wanting to get to an object out of reach and a desire to move toward it.

Symptoms of Screen Time Exposure

According to the Vision Council, 72% of American parents report their children routinely engage in more than two hours of screen time per day. 30% of parents report their children experience at least one of the following symptoms after being exposed to more than two hours of screen time per day:

  • Headaches
  • Neck/shoulder pain
  • Eye strain, dry or irritated eyes
  • Reduced attention span
  • Poor behavior
  • Irritability

Any of these symptoms could potentially affect academic performance and social interactions.

Vision-Related Problems for Children Ages 8 and up

According to Common Sense Media, children under age 8 now spend more than two hours a day with screen media. For 8 to 10-year-olds, screen time triples to six hours a day. And it’s not unusual for kids in middle school and high school to spend up to nine hours per day looking at digital displays.

Risks Associated with Too Much Screen Time

Children who spend multiple hours staring at digital devices are at risk of developing these vision-related problems:

  • Computer Vision Syndrome: Symptoms of computer vision syndrome include digital eye strain, including fluctuating vision, tired eyes, dry eyes, headache, and fatigue. Other non-visual symptoms of computer vision syndrome include neck, back, and shoulder pain.
  • Unhealthy Posture
  • Nearsightedness Development and Progression: The prevalence of myopia has grown significantly in the last few decades and this trend coincides with the increased use of computers and digital devices by children.
  • Increased Exposure to Blue Light: Emission by the LED screens of computers, tablets, smartphones, and other digital devices might increase a person’s risk of age-related eye diseases like macular degeneration later in life.

What to Do

While it’s not realistic to think that children will stop using modern technology, here are some easy things you can do:

  • Encourage Frequent Visual Breaks: Follow the “20-20-20” rule—every 20 minutes, take your eyes off your screen and look at something that’s at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
  • Encourage Frequent Posture Checks: Moving the head slowly to the right and left as well as up and down can relieve strained muscles and reduce fatigue.
  • Protect Their Eyes from Blue Light: It may be wise to take steps to reduce premature aging of the retina by limiting the amount of blue light exposure the eye receives throughout a lifetime.
  • Establish Media-Free Times: Break your child’s fixation on digital devices, reduce eye fatigue, and limit blue light exposure while using this time to connect as a family.
  • Schedule Annual Eye Exams: Schedule an exam prior to the start of every school year.