Is Too Much Screen Time Doing Damage To Your Child?

 We live in some interesting times, don’t we? With all the advances in technology, life has become so convenient, hasn’t it? Think about it, with just the click of a button, you can reach someone on the other side of the planet in a minutes notice.  It is uncommon not to find our children staring into a cell phone, or a laptop computer or a tablet. But how much screen time is too much screen time?

 The American Optometric Association (or AOA) tells us that the average American worker spends seven hours a day on the computer. I wonder how much time the average American kid spends. Perhaps about the same; maybe even more? It also may surprise you to find out that the technology advances has brought along with it some health problems. One particular problem, I read about recently is called the Computer Vision Syndrome.

The AOA defines Computer Vision Syndrome as a group of eye and vision related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader, and cell phone use. Another name for this disorder is Digital Eye Strain.

So, as a parent, I found myself asking the question, how do I know if my child is experiencing CVS?

Well, here are some of the common symptoms associated with this disorder.

Your child may experience headache, dry eyes, blurred vision and eye strain. Surprisingly, neck and/or shoulder pain is also a symptom of this disorder.

You might see a retreat in many of the visual symptoms once you separate from the screen. However, some of the symptoms might hang on, and some can recur or worsen if you don’t address the cause.

So, what are the causes of CVS?

Let me preface the answer by stating a fact: A digital page on a screen is very different from a printed page.

The characters on screen will not appear as sharply defined as the characters you see on paper. There tends to be less contrast between the characters and the screen background.  The glare that is present from inside the devices tends to make your eyes work harder. Also, the reflections of light sources outside the device, such as lamps, natural light through the windows or overhead light sources can also contribute to work increase on your eyes.  These two factors can increase your risk of CVS.

There is also a momentous, difference in how far or near you are to a printed page versus a screen, as well as, in the angle at which you’re viewing your source. This can challenge your eyes in terms of movement and focus.

Uncorrected or under-corrected vision problems—even minor ones can contribute to the development of CVS. Another challenge that will facilitate the development of this disorder is poor posture. You’ve seen it and are likely guilty yourself. Ask yourself as you read this blog, are you sitting with your back curved and shoulders hunched?   Are you leaning in toward the screen? This is where neck and shoulder pain obtains its origin as a symptom of CVS.

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent or minimize these symptoms and your health care professionals at encourage you to implement some of these interventions.

Here are some prevention and reduction interventions that you and your child can do.

First of all, CVS symptoms can be caused by many non-CVS conditions. So a proper eye exam is, of course, necessary to determine whether your child has it.  If your child does have it, then the question becomes, to what extent and what can you do about it. If your child wear corrective lenses, make sure they’re up to date.

Here are some more clues you need to be looking at.

The more time in front of your screen seems to correlate with more CVS discomfort.

Research has shown that spending two or more nonstop hours onscreen puts you in the highest CVS risk group.

You think?

We know what you’re saying. Their school work requires a lot more than two hours onscreen.

We also know how many of us are coaxed by “recreational surfing.” How many times have you found your child, or yourself, on the internet wandering from emails to news, and sports, then to games, and eventually to movies?  The answer is probably, often. The internet just draws us in and makes it all easy to wander.  Perhaps having the knowledge of the CVS risks lurking in your mind, will be the impetus for making your child cut back?  Could it be the catalyst? Hopefully, it will be.

During my research, I also stumbled upon a concept known as the 20-20-20 rule.

What the rule encourages is that for every 20 minutes you’re onscreen, you should take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet away. This allows your eye muscles to remain limber.

Another, do-it-yourself technique that is simple and immediately effective speaks to positioning and posture.  And not only is it effective and easy to implement, it also delivers good health benefits, as well. Unfortunately it is dreadfully easy to forget to do. This is assuming your child is at a desk, with a desktop computer, not a laptop.

Body position: remember what your parents and teachers told you? Sit up straight, shoulders back.  Stress this to your kids. This is important because hunching over and forward can lead to muscle pain and spasms.

Chair: the chair they sit in should be padded, comfortable, and placed at the proper height to allow their feet to rest flat on the floor. If it has adjustable arms, set them to provide arm support while they type. They should never rest their wrists on the keyboard or desktop when typing.

Screen position: most people prefer looking downward 4–5 inches, in contrast to looking straight ahead, at the screen 20–28 inches from the eyes. Your child should avoid any position where light comes in from behind the screen. An example of that scenario would be from a window. You should adjust the blinds or shades for your child, if you need to.

Lighting:  You will also need to adjust the screen for your child in order to accomplish the least reflected glare from windows or overhead lighting. Also, use low-wattage bulbs in any desk lamps.

Anti-glare, anti-reflective screens can also be helpful.

Breaks: Monitor your child’s use and prompt them to rest their eyes for 15 minutes after two hours of continuous time onscreen.

Blink. Encourage your child to blink frequently, which will keep their eyes moist and minimize the risk of dry eyes.

Special lenses: There are special lenses available for those who don’t otherwise need eyeglasses. This eyewear is specifically designed for computer use. They comprise of special lens design, tint /coatings and power that can magnify visual   abilities, as well as, provide comfort to the eyes.

Vision therapy: There are special exercises that can improve eye-brain coordination and function. Ask an optometrist about this.


Tony is a Registered Nurse, who has 25 years of pediatric experience. He has practiced as a Staff Nurse, Charge Nurse, and as a Nurse Manager at Cook Childrens Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. He also has experience in the adult arena, most recently as a nurse in a Cardiovascular ICU and as a Hemodialysis Nurse. He has a wife and two children. His hobbies are Bible study, physical fitness, working with children, writing and blogging.