Evidence is growing that too much time in front of a screen can be bad for our eyes and our health in general, especially for children and teens. Too much screen time has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, dry eye, headaches, eye strain, poorer sleep, and an increase in the rate of myopia, or near-sightedness.
It can be hard to tear children away from their favourite smartphone apps, video games, or e-books, though. Here we round up some expert advice to help you limit your child's screen time.
Encourage regular breaks
Ophthalmologists recommend taking a 20-second break from near reading every 20 minutes, as extended reading can cause eye strain. K. David Epley, MD, a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, suggests that parents set a kitchen timer or a smart device timer to remind children to take a break, alternate reading e-book and a physical book, encourage kids to look out of the window every two chapters or after completing a level in a video game, and pre-marking books with a paperclip every few chapters to remind your child to look up.
"If you run too far and your legs start hurting, you stop. Likewise, if you've been reading too long or watching videos too long, and your eyes start hurting, you should stop," says Epley.
Limit the amount of screen time each day
"We want to reinforce the American Heart Association's long-standing recommendation for children and teens to get no more than 1-2 hours of recreational screen time daily," says Tracie A. Barnett, PhD, a researcher at the INRS-Institut Armand Frappier and Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center, in Montreal, Canada, in a recent scientific statement released by the American Heart Association and published in its journal Circulation. Barnett adds that many children and teenagers far exceed these amounts, and advises parents to be vigilant about their child's screen time.