Tech Savvy: How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
Most people view being tech-savvy as a benefit in today’s society. But how much is too much screen time for children?
Today’s children are being introduced to the digital world as early as a year old, or even younger. This action is often initiated by something as casual as video-chatting with family. We talked with the parent of a kindergartener and high school sophomore, and the amount of time their children spent on digital devices this school year was surprising to them.
The kindergartener spent three hours per week using his personal tablet at home according to his screen time tracking, but this is in addition to 27 hours that is the minimum assigned as part of his school curriculum last year. The amount of time their sophomore spent working on a digital device was even higher. The sophomore spent two hours per week using her personal laptop at home, plus has a minimum of 108 hours of assigned laptop time between two classes alone. This is the allotted time based on the teacher’s initial plan, so some weeks may include even more screen time for both of them. And neither of these include phone usage, which often reflects the majority of screen time for some children today.
How many hours a day on a screen does the average child spend?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports an estimate of the average daily hours of screen time by age group:
Even as an adult, our eyes can feel dry and tired at the end of the work shift that involves a lot of screen time. And our eyes aren’t still growing and developing! After examining the number of hours their children spent on digital devices at home and school, it made the parent wonder if their eyes were paying a heavy price in exchange for being tech savvy.
So how much screen time is actually ok?
According to the CDC, children are starting to experience vision problems at much earlier ages than in the past. Pediatric optometrists believe some of these problems are occurring due to children being introduced to digital devices at such an early age. Doctors are examining more and more young patients who can’t carry out the basic mechanical requirements of the visual system: eye teaming (the ability to make both eyes work together), eye focusing (the ability to make vision clear when looking from far to near), or eye tracking (the ability to accurately and quickly follow objects or change fixation from one point to another). Pediatric optometrists are receiving complaints from parents and patients who state that children are experiencing headaches, eye strain, and blurred vision.
In general, doctors recommend:
- 0-2 years old: Zero screen time, except for video chatting with family
- 2-5 years old: One hour a day or less, with supervision
- 5-17 years old: Two hours a day or less, except schoolwork
Why is screen time harmful?
If not treated properly, children can start to develop more significant vision conditions such as convergence insufficiency, esotropia, and progressive myopia. Each of these conditions reflect a poor response to visual stress, where the body tries to reduce the stress it experiences through adaptations and physical changes. But these improper adaptations can lead to feelings of eye strain, headaches, double vision, and in the case of progressive myopia, eye diseases that can cause permanent loss of vision.
The eyes are relaxed when looking at a distance, but having to look at closer objects for prolonged periods of time leads to maladaptations in vision. The human visual system has developed over time to mainly allow us to scan for threats in the distance and occasionally look up close for other tasks. However, continuously focusing on objects up close forces the eyes to adapt and change, and not always for the better. The eyes may adapt to see objects up clearly up close, foregoing the ability to see objects in the distance as clear and single.
How can you help?
At Brighter Outlook Vision, we can help address some of the harmful conditions caused by too much near work or computer time with a program of vision therapy. Vision therapy helps train the eyes to work with the brain in a more efficient manner, causing less stress on the eyes long term.
If a child does have a vision problem, vision therapy can dramatically help these children. Vision therapy trains the eyes and brain to work together, creating new neural pathways that allow the visual system to work in harmony with our body and brain. This allows a child to interact with their world more naturally, without having to struggle.
One study that evaluated the success rate of treating convergence insufficiency, which is just one type of vision problem, with in-office vision therapy showed a very high success of 75%-85%.