This Is What Too Much Screen Time Does to Your Children's Eyes

That blue light has a serious impact on the health of your kids.

In the modern era, virtually everyone—regardless of their age—is using a smartphone. According to a 2013 study conducted by Common Sense Media, a shocking 38 percent of children under the age of 2 used a smartphone to consume some form of media in 2013, up from just 10 percent in 2011.

As you've heard time and time again, increased smartphone use poses serious health risks for all of us, but that's especially true for kids whose bodies are still growing and developing. Yes, smartphones can affect your child from head to toe, but the area you need to pay especially close attention to is their eyes. Read on to find out exactly what screen time does to your children's vision—you'll certainly be motivated to take away that smartphone after finding out more.

It causes eye strain.

Smartphone screens emit something called blue light that has the potential to do some serious damage to your child's eyes. "Excessive blue light exposure has been linked to eye strain, fatigue, and headaches," explains Dr. Amanda Rights, an optometrist and brand ambassador for Transitions Lenses. Indeed, one recent survey from The Vision Council found that 9 percent of parents reported that their kids who spent two or more hours looking at screens experienced frequent eye strain and headaches.

While these symptoms might not seem particularly dangerous, Greg Bullock, marketing manager for glasses company Theraspecs, says that these symptoms could worsen to the point that they're seriously impacting the health of your child later on in life.

"A combination of blue light, screen or device settings, and light intensity all can lead to eye strain even in a perfectly healthy child," he says. "While it is temporary for most, those with inherent disorders may experience prolonged symptoms."

It dries out their eyes.

In addition to causing extreme eye strain, frequent exposure to digital screens can also dry out children's eyes. According to an oft-cited 1991 study published in the journal Optometry and Vision Science, visual display units (read: smartphone and computer screens) emit lights that are proven to dry out the eyes of users by decreasing a person's blink rate and therefore leaving the eyes without the extra moisture blinking supplies.

It can harm their retinas.

According to Dr. Rights, long-term and excessive smartphone use has the ability to do severe damage to your child's retinas, or the layers of nerve cells lining the back wall of the eye that work to sense light and send signals to the brain so that you can see. "Specifically, high energy blue light, like the kind emitted from your phone, has been proven to accelerate retinal cell death," she says.

Kasun Ratnayake, a PhD student at the University of Toledo who helped conduct a 2018 study on the effects of blue light, said in a statement, "If you shine blue light on retinal, the retinal kills photoreceptor cells. … Photoreceptor cells do not regenerate in the eye. When they're dead, they're dead for good."

It can lead to vision impairment.

It's also entirely possible that your child will end up in glasses as a result of spending too much time on their phone. One 2019 report from optical health company Scrivens found that in the past seven years, the number of 13- to 16-year-olds who wear glasses in the U.K. has nearly doubled, in large part due to the increase in screen time.

And it can cause total vision loss.

Blue light can also elevate your child's risk of developing certain eye disorders like macular degeneration, a leading cause of total vision loss. "[T]here is evidence that long-term exposure to our screens may also impact our visual health and increase the risk for eye disorders such as macular degeneration," says Bullock.

According to the BrightFocus Foundation, 11 million Americans have some form of macular degeneration today. But that number is expected to double to nearly 22 million by 2050.

It can harm the rest of the body, too.

Constant exposure to blue light can also put your child at risk for serious diseases like skin cancer. That's because, as Dr. Rights explains, "damage from harmful blue light is thought to be cumulative, similar to exposure to UV light."

So what can you do to protect your child? Specifically, Dr. Rights recommends two things: having your child wear protective lenses and limiting their smartphone usage.

"Blue light blocking lenses … offer protective benefits from both indoor and outdoor sources of blue light," she says, the sun being the biggest source. "In addition, practice the '20-20-20 rule' when on a digital device: For every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20-second break to look at something 20 feet away. In this modern era, digital devices are a part of everyday life, and so the goal is not to shun screens, but to practice safe use through protective eyewear and screen time management." And for more ways to ensure that your children are happy and healthy, here's The Secret to Raising Healthy Kids.

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Ashley Moor
Ashley hails from Dayton, Ohio, and has more than six years of experience in print and digital media. Read more
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