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Rise in Screen Time: How to Protect Your Family’s Vision

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people socialize and communicate. Society has become more dependent on technology, which has led to an increase in screen time among all age groups. This is a convenient, yet dangerous trend that can have negative effects on vision health.

Effects on Eye Health

The blue light emitted from digital devices can strain eyes, causing them to age prematurely. In fact, the National Eye Institute found the frequency of myopia, also known as near-sightedness, has significantly increased in Americans during the last few decades. It’s also common for children and adults to experience Computer Vision Syndrome from dim lighting, glare, poor posture and short viewing distances. Overall, research shows people who frequently use electronic devices are more likely to have eye problems earlier in life. Notable symptoms include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Dry eye
  • Frequently rubbing eyes
  • Headaches
  • Neck and back pain
  • Squeezing eyes
  • Squinting
  • Tilting or turning head to look at objects
  • Wandering eyes

Managing Screen Time and Eye Health

Excessive use of electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, videogames and television by kids may contribute to attention problems, difficulties in school, insomnia, eating disorders and obesity. Here are some tips on how to limit screen time to avoid future issues:

  • Lead by example: It’s important for parents to set a good example. Sometimes they need a reminder to take time away from their screens, too. A simple way to lessen phone use is to put it in a purse or pocket rather than carrying it in your hand. Start small by minimizing phone use at the beginning of the day and over time, reaching for the phone will no longer be second nature.
  • Make screen time safer: When screen time is inevitable, families can avoid digital eye strain by adjusting screen brightness, keeping devices at eye level, increasing text size and blinking often. Experts also recommend taking 20-second breaks every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away.
  • Schedule family eye exams: The American Optometric Association suggests young people have their vision checked periodically throughout childhood and every two years as adults. Scheduling regular appointments will not only lead to a healthier family, but help kids be mindful of their eye health as they grow.

Tech-Free Family Activities

In certain instances, screen time is unavoidable. It’s a requirement for many jobs as well as distance learning. Outside of those parameters, look for healthy ways to spend free time by creating a screen-free zone. This can be the living room or a child’s playroom, where the family won’t have access to digital devices. Try engaging in these tech-free activities that benefit the mind and body:

  • Create family workouts: Many household activities can serve as a chance to get moving together. Rethink traditional exercise and consider ways to turn the home into a gym. Try different body weight exercises, dancing or a chore workout. Don’t be afraid to get creative.
  • Grow a garden: Teach children the importance of patience and care through gardening. Not only will they learn the value of consistency, but they’ll also engage in some physical activity in the process. Weeding, tilling soil, planting and landscaping have been proven to get the heart pumping and relieve stress.
  • Have a weekly sports night: Take advantage of the summer weather with frequent outdoor activities. Each week choose one night to get outside together and play a sport. This can serve as a great way to boost everyone’s mood and encourage friendly competition.

Dr. Gina Lynem-Walker is an associate medical director at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.  

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