These days screen time can seem almost unavoidable. We relax and unwind by watching screens, we work on screens, we even do our banking on screens. But what impact does this have on the growth and development of our kids?

In 2019, the World Health Organization released a statement that children under the age of 5 need to spend less time watching screens and more time engaging in active play. There were several factors that played a part in this recommendation, and Laubman & Pank optometrist, Kirby Phillips, discusses the visual component.

Spending prolonged time doing near tasks, including using tablets and smart phones, has been shown to increase the likelihood of children becoming shortsighted. Short-sightedness – also known as myopia – is the visual condition that causes blurry vision in the distance. Individuals who are short-sighted require glasses or contact lenses to correct their vision, and generally need to wear these visual aids on a full-time basis. Children who are short-sighted require glasses to see the board clearly at school, and if they don’t wear glasses, may complain of headaches and blurry vision.

Many optometrists see the effects of excessive near activities in the optometry room on a regular basis. The prevalence of short-sightedness, and visual fatigue in long-sighted children who spend too much time on screens continues to rise. Symptoms of visual fatigue include headaches, sore eyes, excessive blinking, and blurry vision, all of which can impact on a child’s ability to learn and develop.

Children who are experiencing visual fatigue can have more difficulty with homework, reading, and shifting focus between the board and their desk at school. It’s important to recognise the symptoms of visual fatigue and short-sightedness in children, as they can lead to deficits in growth and learning.

The World Health Organization’s screen time recommendations for children under 5 years are:

  • 0-1 years old: Screen time is not recommended.
  • 2 years of age: No more than 1 hour per day; less is better.
  • 3-4 years old: No more than 1 hour per day.