Are I-Pads Eye-Healthy for Kids? 6 Tips for Parenting in the Digital Age

Look around these days and you will often see very young children playing on mom or dad’s tablet or smart phone. Recent studies have showed that 38 percent of babies under the age of 2 are using an electronic mobile device, and over 40 percent of parents report their children spending three or more hours per day on these digital screens.

While today’s technology offers a myriad of great options for educating and amusing children, parents need to make sure their tech-savvy kids are protected from the potentially harmful effects of excessive screen time. As an optometrist, my focus is on their developing eyes, but as a father, I know it’s equally as important to consider the effects on their growing bodies and minds.

I’ve put together some guidelines for parents when it comes to screen time and the health and wellness of their kids.

1. Set limits on the amount of time your children spend on digital devices. For younger children, this can be as simple as setting a kitchen timer, and for older kids, it could require cutting off the WiFi after a certain time, even if that requires setting password restrictions.

2. Encourage tots to explore their world physically using all their senses. Young children need to learn to interact with their world physically and socially as they develop their visual, auditory and hand-eye coordination. Screen time is a sedentary, stationary and isolated activity that neglects some important aspects of their physical and mental growth. Nothing beats a walk in the park or trip to the playground with a friend to get your kids engaged and interacting with their world. Resist the temptation to use the iPad as a pacifier.

3. Limit your own digital device use around your children. Children will mimic your behavior and start demanding screen time when they see you tapping away, but more importantly, you can’t give your child 100 percent of your attention while you are texting or surfing. Use your “together time” to engage in conversation, start silly games and stories, or draw pictures together.

4. Apply blue light filters to any digital devices your child uses. The high-energy blue light emissions from digital screens may be just as harmful to the eye as UV light from sun exposure. The risk to children is even higher since they hold the screens closer and have pristine clear eye tissues that allow more light to reach the back of the eye.

Blue light filters are available as a clear transparent film that is easily applied to the screen surface, and double as protection for the screen against scratches and stains. Avoid blue light blocking apps — they may subdue some blue light frequencies to reduce eyestrain, but don’t eliminate the harmful light rays.

5. Look into lenses designed for use in the digital age. If your child already wears glasses, ask about “digital lenses.” These lenses are designed somewhat like bifocals. They offer a small amount of magnifying power to alleviate the eye strain induced when locked into a close focus for extended periods of time. Children who don’t wear glasses full time and adults can also benefit from this new lens technology.

6. Look for signs of eye fatigue in your child and have their eyes examined. Watch for squinting, rubbing of the eyes, covering one eye, excessive blinking and watering eyes as possible signs that your child has a vision problem. School screenings are not a substitute for a complete eye examination — typically, they only test long-distance vision, overlooking possible eye coordination and near-focus issues.

Be sure your child has had an eye examination by the time they enter kindergarten and take them in sooner if you suspect a problem – even infants can be evaluated for vision problems. If you are concerned about the effects of digital device use on your child’s eyes, ask if the doctor routinely prescribes “computer glasses,” or offers the new lenses designed for computer users when scheduling your appointments.

Dr. Greg W. McGrew has run his family-oriented optometric practice in Leesburg, VA, since 1987. In addition to providing general eye health care, optical services and contact lenses, his Low Vision Clinic offers specialty services for the visually handicapped, and he serves as eyecare provider for a number of correctional facilities in Virginia. To learn more, visit www.eyecarecenterleesburg.com.

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