Screen time: How to prevent digital eyestrain

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Children who spend a lot of time on electronic screens may experience computer vision syndrome or digital eyestrain. Find tips for preventing eye and vision symptoms caused by extended screen use.

Key points

  • When using screens for longer than 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
  • Avoid small print, and remind children to consciously blink more often when using screens.
  • Incorporate activities that do not involve screens, including time outdoors, into your child’s day.
  • Minimize disruptions to your child’s sleep by avoiding screens one hour before bedtime.

Spending many hours on screens can lead to various eye and vision symptoms such as dryness, eye tiredness, burning eyes, blurry vision, headaches and sensitivity to light. This is known as computer vision syndrome or digital eyestrain. Here are some tips to help ease digital eyestrain:

  1. Follow the 20-20-20 rule

    Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This allows for your child’s eyes to re-focus and re-adjust so the eye muscles are not being strained.

  2. Increase font size and viewing distance

    Small print may cause your child to squint or bring the screen closer. Increasing the font size can make it easier to see at a more comfortable viewing distance.

  3. Blink more frequently

    Normally, we blink 16 times per minute, but when we use screens, this can reduce to only five or six times per minute. This can cause dryness or digital eyestrain. Remind your child to consciously blink more often. If you have any questions or concerns about eye dryness or eyestrain, please contact your eye care provider.

  4. Limit time on screens outside of school

    Prolonged screen use is associated with myopia (near sightedness). Plan activities that do not involve screens—such as playing board games or helping to prepare dinner—in the evenings and on weekends.

  5. Spend more time outdoors

    Spending just 90 minutes or more outdoors every day can reduce the risk of developing myopia or slow down the progression of myopia in children with the condition. Studies have shown that children who spent more time outdoors compared to their counterparts lowered their risk of getting or increasing their level of myopia. If you have any questions or concerns about myopia, please contact your eye care provider.

    Children who attend school in person can easily spend 90 minutes outside if they walk to or from school and by spending lunch and recess breaks outside. For children who receive in-home schooling, a conscious effort to spend time outside should be made.

  6. No screen time before bedtime

    Screens emit blue light, which is similar to sunlight. Being exposed to this light at bedtime can make us more alert and disrupt our sleep cycle. To minimize disruptions to your child’s sleep, stop using screens at least one hour before bedtime. If your child’s device has a blue light filter, you may also turn this on to block blue light.

Last updated: February 1st 2022