Screen Time & Eye Health In Children

Screen Time & Eye Health In Children

Screen time has been linked to digital eye strain, dry eyes and short-sightedness. Lots of screen time can impact your child’s eye health. Find out more about screen time and eye health below.


Key points about screen time and eye health in children

  • screen time refers to the amount of time your child spends on electronic devices with screens
  • too much screen time can lead to digital eye strain and dry eyes
  • screen time may be linked to an eye condition called myopia (short-sightedness)
  • find out how to keep your child’s eyes healthy when using screens

Screen time as part of a healthy lifestyle

Screen use can be educational and fun, and ensuring that tamariki (children) and rangatahi (adolescents) have quality screen media can help them to make the most of the opportunities screens provide. 

When it comes to eye health, however, time spent on screens is important, regardless of quality. Screen time refers to the total time someone spends using electronic devices with screens. That includes time spent using screens for learning, and for fun. A healthy lifestyle can include screen time. 

How does screen time affect my child's eyes and vision?

Digital eye strain

Digital eye strain (DES) is a condition that happens when someone uses electronic devices like computers and phones for a long time. While there isn’t proof that long-term computer use causes permanent damage to the eyes, regular and prolonged screen time can lead to eye strain and discomfort. 

Digital eye strain can cause the following symptoms: 

  • dry eyes
  • itchy eyes
  • a sensation of something being stuck in your eye
  • watery eyes 
  • blurry vision
  • headache

Your child’s eyes will have to work harder if they are viewing screens for long periods of time. Screens throw glare and reflections, and the flickering makes your child’s eyes work harder to adjust. 

Dry eye disease 

Your child’s eyes need tears to stay healthy and comfortable. Dry eyes occur when there are not enough tears produced. This can make your child’s eyes feel dry and uncomfortable. If dry eyes happen frequently and continue long-term, it can lead to permanent changes to the surface of the eye (dry eye disease). 

When focusing on a screen, tamariki tend to blink less frequently. Blinking helps to spread tears over the surface of the eye to keep them moist and comfortable. Dry eyes has been directly linked to screen use. Hours of daily screen use in tamariki has been found to predict the number of symptoms. So more time on screens can worsen your child’s dry eye symptoms.

Blue light exposure

Screens emit blue light, which can suppress melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate sleep. Tamariki and rangatahi need good quality sleep to help them learn and develop. Exposure to blue light before bedtime can disrupt your child’s natural sleep-wake cycle, making it harder to fall asleep.

Myopia (short-sightedness)

Screen time may be linked to an eye condition called myopia or short-sightedness. Myopia is a common eye condition that causes blurred distance vision. It usually develops in childhood. 

Myopia may be more likely to develop in young people who:

  • spend long periods of time doing near tasks such as screen time 
  • spend only a small amount of time outdoors
  • have less time being exposed to daylight

The Australia and New Zealand Child Myopia Working Group recommends that tamariki and rangatahi have more green time (outdoors) and less screen time. They suggest building regular breaks into your child’s screen time. Every twenty minutes, remind your child to look up from their screen and look out a window or at something in the distance. Changing tasks (but make sure they are not all close work tasks) can also be a great way to balance time on and off screens. 

See the KidsHealth page on short-sightedness in children and young people for more information. 

Tips for minimising the impact of screen time on your child’s eye health

In order to help protect your child's eyes and vision from the effects of screens, try some of the following tips. 

Time outdoors

Time outdoors is great for your child’s eye health. Encourage your child to have more green time and less screen time. Promote outdoor activities to support healthy vision development and reduce the risk of myopia. At least two hours outdoors every day has been found to lower the risk of developing myopia. 

Regular breaks

Encourage your child to try the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes of screen time, get them to take a 20-second break and look at something 20 feet (6 meters) away to reduce eye strain. Set reasonable limits on daily screen time to allow for breaks and other activities.

Adjust display settings

Reduce screen brightness and use blue light filters on screens to minimise blue light exposure. This is particularly helpful in the evening. 

Eye checks 

Schedule regular eye check-ups with an optometrist to monitor your child’s eye health and vision.

This page last reviewed 30 November 2023.

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