6 Back-to-School Strategies to Limit Your Kid's Screen Time

An eye doctor’s tips on setting limits on TV, computers, video games and smartphones

SAN DIEGO, CALIF (August 2018) -- The new school year is just around the corner, and that means less free time for the younger set to loaf in front of a screen. Or does it? These days, the demands of school life mean that children and teens will spend even more time on a digital device. And all that screen time is a concern to parents and physicians - especially eye doctors.

“Setting limits on screen time is a good idea, particularly now that we know what prolonged use can do to your eyesight long-term,” said Sandy T. Feldman MD, Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center in San Diego. “But as a parent myself, I know that’s tough to do.”

The next generation knows how to operate tablets, smartphones, and computers almost from birth, yet too much screen time can result in digital eyestrain, which can include burning, itchy, or tired eyes. Headaches, fatigue, blurred or double vision, loss of focus, and head and neck pain are other pitfalls for children and teens using screens too often and too long.

In one 2015 survey, 41 percent of parents reported that their kids spend three or more hours per day on digital devices. All this screen time can easily lead to ‘digital burnout.’ Worse, electronic devices are known to give off high-energy, short-wavelength blue and violet light, which can affect vision, cause premature aging of the eyes, contribute to eyestrain and can even trigger serious conditions later in life such macular degeneration.

As Dr. Feldman explained, “What most people don’t realize is that blue light is very similar to UV light in terms of wavelength and energy, and that’s why doctors are concerned about cumulative damage over a lifetime of exposure.”

With all this in mind, parents can make a big difference in their children’s overall health and academic performance by limiting screen use. Dr. Feldman offers a few practical suggestions:

1. Make Screen Time a Privilege
Kids these days often seem to think screen time is a basic human right. Make it clear that screen time is a privilege that needs to be earned and can be taken away at any time. Teach your children to do homework and chores first, before they turn on the TV or text their friends.

2. Demonstrate Healthy Habits
Young people learn more from what you do than what you say. Be a good role model by limiting your own screen time.

3. Establish House Rules about Electronics
Set some guidelines and do your best to stick to them, despite the inevitable push-back. One example would be having a set time when screens need to be turned off at night and removing screens from bedrooms to discourage after-hours use.

4. Promote Healthy Habits
To protect their eyes and vision, teach your children to take frequent visual breaks. Use the 20-20-20 rule: Take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away.

5. No Electronics During Meals
Shut off your TV during mealtimes and don’t allow text messaging or web surfing while you’re eating. Instead, use the opportunity to talk about your day. Don't let screens cheat your family out of precious quality time together.

6. Encourage Screen-Free Days
Every once in a while, it can be helpful to have a screen-free day for the entire family. It’s a great way to ensure that everyone can still enjoy each other’s company without electronics.
Whether you play a board game or go for a family hike, make it clear that during your time together all digital devices will be turned off.

“Bottom line, excessive screen time doesn’t help our kids, whether it’s academically, physically or socially. At the same time, electronics aren't going away anytime soon, and there are positive aspects to their use as well,” said Dr. Feldman.

“My best advice is to set limits on digital devices, practice what you preach, and make sure that you provide kids with options for digital-free activities. Here’s to a great new school year!”

About Sandy T. Feldman, MD

Sandy T. Feldman, MD is the Medical Director of Clearview Eye & Laser Medical Center - voted best LASIK center in San Diego by the San Diego Union Tribune (2016 and 2017) and CityBeat Magazine two years in a row. Her numerous awards include “Top Doc San Diego” and the Goldline Award, an honor granted to only 10 laser eye care providers in the U.S. each year. She has also been profiled in Forbes, Newsweek, and other respected publications. Dr. Feldman is a fellow of the prestigious American College of Ophthalmic Surgeons, as well as a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery. She has successfully performed more than 20,000 refractive procedures. For more information, visit clearvieweyes.com.

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