January 23, 2018

Recommendations Made for Kids Screen Use

On November 5, 2017, the Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO) and the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) released a recommendation for safe screen use for kids.

Little girl using a tablet and holding it in her hands.

The Data for Kids Screen Use

In adults, the amount of screen-related eye discomfort is estimated to be between 50-90%.

Even though we don’t have the same statistics for kids screen use, we do know that kids are beginning to use screens at an earlier age and for longer periods of time than in the past. Kids are still developing physically and visually and should follow different guidelines for screen use than their parents.

Just they might not notice (and then not mention) that their vision is blurry, kids are also less likely to complain about eye irritation. They might ignore discomfort if they are enjoying a task, or they might just not realize they should mention certain symptoms, like itchy, burning, or tired eyes.

  • In a 2014 survey of 200 American children (age 10-17), 80% reported itchy, burning, or tired eyes after using mobile devices.
  • A study of 715 kids found that smartphone use longer than 2 hours was associated with higher odds of symptoms.
  • Another study found an inward turning of the eye (acquired comitant esotropia) in 12 students (age 7-12) who used their smartphone within 30 cm of their eyes, more than 4 hours a day, for over 4 months.
  • Finally, research shows that kids screen use may interfere with sleep due to the emission of blue light, which can supress melatonin production.

No study offers a time limit on the hours of kids screen use, but the Canadian Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggest that screen use be limited based on age. Even though these limits are not based on the effects on your eyes, they are convincing and state that long screen time can result in;

  • increased risk of obesity,
  • poorer school performance,
  • poorer sleep quality,
  • risky behaviours in older children, and
  • late comprehension, learning, and social skills in younger children.

Despite earlier thinking, longer hours in front of a screen is not a direct cause of an increase in nearsightedness (myopia), instead it has been linked with kids spending fewer hours outside.

Recommendations for Kid’s Screen Use

  • Kids screen use should be limited by time based on age
    • 0-2 years: None.
    • 2-5 years: No more than 1 hour a day of screen use. It is recommended that the content should be age-appropriate and parents are encouraged to discuss and provide context to help them apply the new knowledge.
    • 5-18 years: Ideally no more than 2 hours a day of recreational screen use. This recreational time does not include devices that can be used depending on their studies. Kids report total screen time as much higher – even up to 7 hours a day.

Infographic - Recommended amount of kids screen time

  • Breaks should be taken ever 30-60 minutes. These breaks should involve full body activity.

Kids screen time should include a break every 60 minutes minimum.

  • Workstations
    • Chair height should allow a kids feet to sit flat on the floor, or on a stool to allow for support.
    • Chairs should not have arms rest unless they fit the child perfectly, same with the backrests.
    • Desks should be set at the elbow height or slightly below. There should be enough depth in the desk to allow for forearm support.
    • Displays should be set directly in front of the kid and the screen should be level with the kid’s eyes. The angle of the screen can then be adjusted as needed.
    • The screen should be placed at arm’s length, and then moved as necessary.
    • Workstation lighting should be even throughout the line of sight to reduce glare and reflections that cause discomfort.

Infographic - Kids screen use work space ergonomics for kids.

  • Kids screen use should be avoided one hour before bed time.
  • Outdoor activity should be encouraged over screen time.
  • Kids might not complain about visual discomfort. Regular comprehensive eye exams are recommended every year or sooner if requested by your optometrist. OHIP covers the cost of yearly eye exams for kid’s age 0-19 years old.