Parents Unaware of Damage to Kids' Vision From Excessive Screen Time

Half of parents are blind to how much screen time can damage their kids' vision, according to new research.

They overlook simple steps to protect it, such as wearing blue-light blocking glasses and making their children play outdoors more.

Spending more hours on smartphones, tablets and other digital devices — and less time outdoors — is harmful, researchers say.

The results are part of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital national poll on children's health at the University of Michigan Health.

Sarah Clark, a research scientist at the University of Michigan said: "Many parents may not be aware of both the short and long-term health issues linked to excessive screen time, including its effect on children's eyes.

Kids on smartphones
Children play video games on smartphones while attending a public event on September 22, 2012 in Ruesselsheim, Germany. New research has revealed that parents are not aware of the effects of prolonged screen time on their kids' vision. Getty Images/Sean Gallup

"Our findings suggest that some parents may have inaccurate perceptions of activities that affect their child's eye health and vision and how to minimize risks."

They were based on a nationally-representative survey of 2,002 parents of children aged 3 to 18 across the U.S. One in 7 said their child has not had a vision test in two years.

In the U.K., primary schoolkids' screen time soared during the pandemic. Six- to 10-year-old kids spent an hour and 23 minutes more a day looking at digital devices.

For 11- to 17-year-olds and under 5s, it went up by 55 and 35 minutes, respectively. The phenomenon was linked to worsening eyesight.

Millions of students were forced to switch to remote learning, while social media use skyrocketed. The increases were leisure activities not related to work or study.

Boy child kid using Apple iPad
In this photograph illustration, a 10-year-old boy uses an Apple iPad tablet on November 29, 2011, in Knutsford, United Kingdom. Researchers have said that parents may have inaccurate perceptions of activities that affect their child’s eye health. Getty Images/Christopher Furlong

Ophthalmologists have warned of an epidemic of shortsightedness, or myopia, across the world. It can lead to more serious eye problems later in life.

The condition in children has increased dramatically in the past 30 years. Studies suggest outdoor time protects against it.

"Parents should encourage at least one to two hours of outdoor time per day because exposure to natural light benefits eye development," Clark said.

"Parents should enforce family rules to ensure children have a sustained period of non-screen time during the day.

"This is especially important during summer months when they're off from school and may have less structured downtime."

Some research has linked working up close, like when reading or using a tablet, with shortsightedness.

"It is an important time to think about myopia risks for children because kids with this condition often become more nearsighted over time," said study consultant Olivia Killeen with the University of Michigan.

"The age of myopia onset is the most significant predictor of severe myopia later in life."

Fewer than 1 in 3 parents polled said wearing sunglasses has a major impact. Just 2 in 5 have their child wear eyewear.

They reduce ultraviolet radiation damage which can contribute to eye problems in older age.

"While parents often make sure their children's skin is protected with sunscreen, they may not think about protecting their eyes from the sun as well," Clark said.

Less than a third of parents said their child wears protective glasses or goggles during contact sports.

Clark recommends seeking advice from health providers for safe and comfortable eyewear for sports like lacrosse, tennis, baseball and softball and basketball.

Most parents said their children wear them for working with tools and playing shooting games like Nerf guns or paintball.

After time spent on screens, the most common factors they identified as impacting children's vision and eye health are diet, reading in poor light, sitting close to the TV or computer, and blue light from screens.

Child using smartphone mobile phone
A girl tries an iPhone X at the Apple Omotesando store on November 3, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. Exposure to screen time has soared during the pandemic, according to experts. Getty Images/Tomohiro Ohsumi

Clark said: "Some parents may still follow advice from past generations on protecting kids' eyes.

"Reading in poor light or sitting close to the TV can cause eye fatigue or strain, but they will not do any permanent damage or long-term eye problems."

Fewer than a third of parents said children wear glasses that block blue light that impacts circadian rhythms and makes it harder to fall asleep.

Experts recommend children stop blue light screen use at least one hour before bedtime.

"Children should get vision tests at least every two years to make sure eyes are developing properly," Clark said.

"It's important to identify and treat vision problems as early as possible, because undiagnosed issues can lead to serious eye conditions in the future, including permanent vision loss."

Last year, an analysis of the online habits of 60,000 families in the U.K. found website and app visits more than doubled in the pandemic, spurred by YouTube, TikTok, and BBC News.

Another study of more than 120,000 Chinese children found a threefold increase in shortsightedness among 6- to 8-year-olds in 2020 caused by being confined to their home with schoolwork delivered online.

Concern about excessive screen use extends beyond eyesight. The Millpond Sleep Clinic in London reported a doubling in demand among children.

Parents say they cannot get them to sleep as they have busy brains at bedtime, fueled by screen time being one.

They also worry about the impact on children's mental and emotional development.

The U.S. recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day for children aged 2 and older. The U.K. government has not advocated set time limits.

Produced in association with SWNS.

This story was provided to Newsweek by Zenger News.