When one heads to a restaurant, it is not uncommon to see toddlers and young children playing games or watching videos on phones and tablets. As our world becomes more integrated with technology, our children are getting exposed to digital screens at much younger ages. While some think that devices are a useful solution to get a break from children’s temper tantrums or as a reward for good behaviour, too much screen time may negatively affect children’s eye health. A study done in 2019 found that children who were exposed to more than three hours of screen time per day had an increased risk of developing myopia (short-sightedness). In fact, the chances of a child getting myopia doubled when one spent more than six hours per day on digital screens! Creating a screen time routine would help with screen time management.
Challenges faced in managing myopia and screen time in children
Of course, we know that it is easier said than done to manage your child’s screen time. Take for example the COVID-19 pandemic. It has led to the advent of home-based learning, often requiring children to be stuck on video calls or watching videos online in place of in-class physical learning. This means that apart from social time online, children will be spending most of their day staring at device screens.
For young children, using devices at a young age makes them quickly accustomed to this particular source of entertainment. You may find it hard to deal with meltdowns or uncooperative fits if you take away their devices.
For teenagers, it is harder to regulate their screen time without intruding into their privacy and making them feel guarded. Teenagers use social media to keep up with friends and would be displeased if parents control their private time online.
As children and teenagers continue glueing their eyes to digital screens, the chances of them developing myopia or their myopia worsening increases. More often than not, they may be unaware of the healthy device use behaviours to follow. For example, children may hold their device screens too closely or not take regular and timely eye breaks.
So what can you do to overcome these challenges?
At the very least, children should be educated on proper eye care. They should also learn how it can be incorporated into their use of digital devices. Here are some guidelines that you can brief your children with:
Sitting up straight while using devices – so no slouching!
Keeping a healthy distance from device screens to the eyes: Phones and tablets should be held at least 30 cm away from children’s eyes.
Take regular and timely eye breaks while using devices – at least once every 30 minutes.
Creating a screen time routine may also provide a possible way to manage children’s use of digital devices. Studies have shown that having routines can provide comfort to children by offering some sort of structure in their daily lives. They can also better incorporate the healthy eye care guidelines mentioned above once they are comfortable with the routine.
When creating rules for screen time, do consider hearing your child’s perspective. Your child is more likely to agree to a routine if he/she had a say in it! Understand why your child utilises certain devices or applications and negotiate around that. Having proper breaks and spending those breaks on fun outdoor activities can be some form of compromise. If rewarded for their efforts, your child is more likely to build momentum in the routine!
A routine does not have to be restrictive or undesirable for your child. Their eyes can be taken care of while finding the best of both worlds!