Eye strain associated with screen time has increased during COVID-19, according to Dr. Afire Hasan, optometrist and owner of Insight Vision Care in Eden Prairie. Hasan said there is “quite an increase in kids coming in with eye strain from increased computer usage which has resulted in more prescription glasses as well.”
Hasan recommends that both kids and adults take a break from the screen every twenty minutes. Eye strain and dry eyes are a common complaint from people who spend time in front of a screen as people tend to blink less. For this problem, Hasan recommends using a lubricating eye drop. She also stressed the importance of getting regular eye exams.
COVID-19 screen time increases worldwide
With the Covid-19 pandemic affecting the entire world people are consuming exponentially more screen time, according to an August 2020 Nielsen Total Audience Report. This change is affecting both parents and children. Options for in-person social interaction – sporting events, restaurants, religious gatherings etc. – have decreased. The change to the colder winter season further dwindles standard options. As a result, social interactions via screens increases.
In general, excessive screen time is not a new problem. Whether it’s on their own devices, TV, phones or tablets, children and adolescent exposure to excessive screen time was already a concern. According to the World Health Organization April 2019 guidelines children were already spending too much time looking at screens.
Negative screen time impacts: a growing body of literature
The evidence of the negative impacts of excessive screen time continues to build in the research community. In a peer-reviewed 2018 study Excessive Screen Time and Psychosocial Well-Being: The Mediating Role of Body Mass Index, Sleep Duration, and Parent-Child Interaction published in the Journal of Pediatrics, screen time over two hours per day was associated with increased risk for poor psychosocial well-being for preschool children, primarily due to reduced parent-child interactions.
Spending multiple hours a day on electronic devices is associated with shorter sleep duration in children ages 0-17, according to 2019 study “Associations between screen time and sleep duration are primarily driven by portable electronic devices: evidence from a population-based study of U.S. children ages 0–17”published in the peer reviewed journal Sleep Medicine.
Further, a review of literature by Dr. Gadi Lissak of Meuhedet Health Services, on screen time and children published in Environmental Research in 2018 “Adverse physiological and psychological effects of screen time on children and adolescents: Literature review and case” a host of negative impacts were noted, including impaired vision, reduced bone density high blood pressure, obesity, low HDL cholesterol, poor stress regulation, depression, suppressed melatonin, and sleep issues.
Lissak’s review of other studies noted that children who are exposed to media devices located in their bedrooms are more likely to be exposed to increased overall screen exposure in the evenings.
Research continues to show excessive screen time has negative impacts for children. Moreover, limiting excessive screen will likely remain a challenge until COVID-19 vaccines increase opportunities for non-screen social interactions.
The challenge of limiting screen time : What’s a parent to do?
The Mayo Clinic provides guidelines for helping parents navigate limitations to children and adolescent screen time here. For ideas on local options to keep the family entertained – without screens – check out the article COVID Activities to Keep Your Family Entertained