What Screen Time and Screen Media Do To Your Child’s Brain and Sensory Processing Ability

Q&A regarding screen time, vision and development.

– Can looking at screens too much cause damage to kids’ eyes?

            The short answer is, yes!  Because our visual system is biologically designed for distance vision, near vision is only a focusing reflex that helps us identify objects closely. Our eyes are not designed to interact with screens for hours on end.Excess screen time can cause nearsightedness, eyestrain, double vision, headaches and even changes to the health of the interior of the eyes.

– Is there an age that the risk of damage is minimized?

“A child’s visual processing system is still significantly developing before the age of 2, and final development isn’t reached until 8 or 9 years old. It’s still unclear exactly what the effects of media exposure with its rapid-fire changes are for a developing human system.” 

– How much screen time is too much for kids?

            Before age 2, any screen time is inappropriate. “The younger the child is, the greater the interference and future consequences. The newest policy put forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics says, “In summary, for children younger than 2 years, evidence for benefits of media is still limited, adult interaction with the child during media use is crucial, and there continues to be evidence of harm from excessive digital media use, as described later in this statement.”  In regards to older children, children are “growing up immersed in media” and in an” era of highly personalized media use experiences,” and so instead of one-size-fits-all number of hours, the new recommendation is personalized media plans, decided upon by the family and their doctor.  An important caveat, though, is that the benefits of devices (especially for the younger end of the spectrum, before adolescence) are greatly more limited than the risks.  As the AAP currently recommends to pediatricians, “Work with families and schools to promote understanding of the benefits and risks of media.” “

– What are some warning signs that parents can look out for if they’re worried about their kids eyes — particularly if they are big video game players, smartphone users, computer users, etc.

            Any concerned parent should have their child evaluated for eyesight and functional vision problems.  Once eye sight is assessed, it is important to check if the child has normal eye teaming and focusing systems (www.covd.org).  There was a recent study that linked new onset eye turns with smartphone use in pediatric populations. The eye turn was reduced in 7 out of 12 of the patients with a significant reduction in screen time. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4826517/

            Many special glasses are available through an eye doctor’s office that decrease the amount of the harmful blue light that enters a person’s eye. Our office prescribes many preventative types of glasses to protect the eye health and improve visual function. “The blue light of natural sunlight does some great things for our body. It boosts attention, reaction times and mood, and it suppresses melatonin (the hormone that regulates your circadian rhythms and makes you sleepy when it increases) so you can be awake and alert during your active hours. Most of today’s devices are illuminated by LEDs, which have a much higher percentage of blue light waves than any other light source. White LEDs are almost entirely blue light, combined with a chemical compound to make it look white. Night-time exposure to LED-illuminated devices (most of the screens out there today: computers, tablets, phones, flat screen TVs, e-readers, video games) suppresses melatonin and disrupts the natural sleep cycle. A Scientific American article (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/q-a-why-is-blue-light-before-bedtime-bad-for-sleep/) describes the following study where volunteers spent several evenings reading for a prolonged period of time before a 10PM imposed bedtime. Some used printed books and some used e-readers. Those who used e-readers took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep and felt sleepier and less alert for hours after they woke up in the morning – even if they had gotten the same amount of sleep. We repeatedly see sleep cycle issues in the children who come to our clinic. When we probe, we almost inevitably hear that they’re playing video games, using social media or watching TV for an extended period before they go to bed. Sleep cycle disruptions are a significant contributor to ADHD and other mood and behavioral issues. ” One of the first things we work with these parents and children on is significantly reducing screen time before bed in addition to using special glasses that filter out from 20 to 90% of the blue light spectrum.”

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