Is Screen Time Destroying Your Child's Eyes?

By on 08-05-2020

Scientists warn that staring at digital devices puts eye health at risk, especially children’s 

Most of us probably have a fairly good idea that all the time we spend in front of the screen comes at a price. Now, science confirms it. Sheldon Lee Glashow, Nobel Laureate in Physics and scientific advisor at Reticare, stresses that “the Digital Revolution affects us all. We must trust science now more than ever before we suffer collateral damage.”

"The Digital Revolution affects us all. We must trust science now more than ever before we suffer collateral damage.”

Of all our organs, the eye is the most affected by screen use. And all the variable that can influence eye health have grown exponentially. For example, the light emitted by modern screens is much more harmful than TV screens, and the intensity is greater. Meanwhile, the length of exposure to the screens has also multiplied, as the distance between us and our screens has decreased. Screens are increasingly larger and, worst of all, we start using screens at a younger and younger age.

Multiple studies over the past decade have proven that high energy light used in screens can destroy the cells in our retinas. This is an extremely important discovery, particularly because the retina is what allows us to see and the number of cells in it is limited and those cells cannot be regenerated. Unfortunately, the cell degeneration process is painless and therefore we have no warning. The only symptoms include tired eyes and headaches.

Another factor that makes screen time so harmful and toxic to our retinas today is that we use our mobile phones outside. The light emitted from your mobile screen has to be very powerful – 5 times greater than the light from older technology – to compete with the sun and make it possible for you to see the image displayed. That's also 5x the amount of blue light.

Also, nowadays, most people spend more time in front of a screen than doing anything else, including sleep. The average person spends over 10 hours a day in front of the screen. Our eyes might even be looking at several screens at the same time. This is a new activity for our eyes. Throughout history we have been used to looking the light emitted from object, not from other light sources.

Distance from the screen, as mentioned earlier, is also and important factor. The intensity of light perceived by the eye is inversely proportional to its distance from the source. In other words, the nearer our eyes are to the source, the greater the amount of energy impacting them. For this reason, the length of the user’s arms is fundamental. Until a few years ago, we looked at screens, like TVs, at distances of at least one meter. Now, however, with mobile devices, we need to use our hands and so our distance to the screen is determined by the length of our arms. This is bad for adults, but worse for children whose shorter arms mean they will receive 3 times as much blue light as an adult, simply because the distance of the light source is closer. And it doesn't help that, despite doctors’ warnings, children are using devices with screens at alarmingly younger and younger ages.

Reasons why young children should not use screens:

  • The macula, the most important area of the retina which allows us to see clearly, is not fully developed until age 4
  • Children are less distracted by light, so they protect themselves less. 
  • Children concentrate more intensely on the screen. Due to the flexibility of their eyes, they lean in close, right into the screen to soak up the image.

Though worse for children, we scientists notice excessive screen use having multiple negative effects on the eye, including damage, for everyone, in the short and long term.

Short term harm to eye health:

  • Blurry vision: This involves difficulty distinguishing the details of an object or an image and is usually temporary
  • Dry eyes: Due to less blinking while looking at the screen which causes a lack of lubrication in the eyes and can lead to irritation, vision problems and, in some cases, lesions on the cornea, eyelids and conjunctival membrane.
  • Headaches: These disturbances are directly related to the straining effort made by the eyes when we are in front of a computer screen.
  • Other symptoms include: Tiredness, itching and dryness, photosensitivity, double vision, etc.

Mid to long term harm to eye health:

  • Early onset cataracts: Screen use accelerates the appearance and progression of cataracts since photooxidation produced by blue light contributes to early deterioration of the lens.
  • Retinal detachment: Retinal detachment is directly related to screen use to the point where it can be considered a work-related accident if it occurs while a worker is in front of the screen.
  • Retinal damage: Recent studies indicate that the retina is being affected by screen use. This is because of the kind of light it receives. It has been proven both on human donor cells and in animals that this light is capable of killing cells in the retina, with the additional previously mentioned problem which is that they cannot be regenerated.
  • Macular degeneration or central blindness: Excessive use of screens without appropriate protection may increase the risk of macular degeneration, the largest cause of permanent, irreversible and disabling blindness.

How can you protect your eyes and your child's from screens?

  • Limit screen time. Use parental controls like Qustodio to enforce time limits and remember to take 45 minute breaks. Remember also to set blockout hours like an hour before bed.
  • Use photoprotection film on screens like those made by Reticare whose solution was designed together with the Complutense University Research Group, the world leader in this area with 15 years of scientific research into the effects of blue light on the eye. Aside from shutting off screens completely, this has been proven to be the most effective method to reduce harm to eye health.

More great online safety and digital wellbeing articles from Qustodio:

This post was written by Dr. Celia Sánchez-Ramos, teacher and researcher at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Dr. Honoris Causa from the Menéndez Pelayo International University, an international expert and advisor on protection for governments and Scientific Institutions, and Scientific Advisor to Reticare.

Reticare is one of the worldwide main players and advisor for many governments and institutions on the topic of prevention from the risks of high energy light emitted from device screens.

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