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September 08, 2020

Parents usually don’t need to worry about protecting theirchildren’s eye health from school, but 2020 is basically the wild, wild west and each month continues to unlock new levels of NOPE. Thanks toCOVID-19, many children in the state of North Carolina are doing virtual school, which over time can take a big toll on their eyes. Limiting screen time is always a challenge, but what do parents do when screen time IS school time and our kids start complaining of headaches, eye fatigue, dry eyes or blurred/double vision? Thankfully, there ARE some ways to safeguard your kids’ eyes from hours ofblue light exposure during virtual instruction, so listen up. 

    1. Artificial tears.Even when your kids aren’t learning virtually, chances are they’re spending a lot of time staring at their screens. Whether it’s for school, work, or pleasure, nearly 60% of Americans are on some kind of device for at least 5 hours a day, which can lead to some seriously crusty eyes dryness and irritation. A healthy eye is a moist eye, and healthy eyes require us to blink every 10 seconds or so. Blinking provides a “tear film” which is made up of water, oil and mucus, but people don’t blink as often if they’re staring at devices. To prevent this from happening, ask your optometrist to recommend the best artificial tears for your child. 
    2. 20/20/20 Rule.Have you heard of this? If not, it’s pretty easy to remember. For every 20 minutes your child spends looking at a screen, tell them to look away at something that is 20 feet away for a total of 20 seconds.  Don’t stress too much about the “20 feet away” part, just try to focus on a tree out the window or something that seems far away (no one expects your kid to bust out a measuring tape). Why 20 seconds? Apparently that’s the amount of time it takes for your eyes to fully relax. If you’re like me and easily lose track of time, try using a free app like “Eye Care 20-20-20” that will remind you to take a break. 
    3. Well-lit room. It’s very important that your kids aren’t working in avampire den dimly lit room while they’re attending virtual school. Make sure the light level in your child’s “classroom” is roughly equal to how much light their screen is producing, because a bright screen in a dark room will strain your eyes faster.
    4. Adequate distance. To minimize strain on the eyes, be sure your child isn’t sitting too close to their screen. How close is too close? According to research, most kids hold their devices 10 to 12 inches away from their face (we typically read 16 inches away). Unfortunately, at this distance the eyes are turned in and hyper-focused on the screen, which can lead to eye fatigue and accompanying symptoms. Although research doesn’t provide aclearlink, it’s been suggested that holding your devices too close to your face couldboost the risk of developing myopia (nearsightedness) by eight times (particularly if both parents are myopic). Not a risk I would want to take. Just to be safe, eye doctors recommend keeping digital devices about two feet away from the face to protect eye health. 
    5. Posture Matters. Does your child know how to properly sit at a computer? Not only does correct computer posture matter for the back and neck, it also helps reduce eye strain. Pull your shoulders back to avoid hunching over, keep your neck/head in an upright angle with your ears aligned with your shoulders, make sure the screen is eye level, and place the monitor an arm’s length away.
    6. Blue-light blockers. In the short term, artificial blue light causes eye strain. In the long term, studies have suggested that blue light may actually damage the retina. Because of this, many parents have chosen to purchaseblue light blocking glassesfor their children (it’s me, I am parents). Once my kids put them on they transform into mysterious intellectuals who wear scarves to class and hold tiny cups of espresso (not really, but the glasses seem to pass the vibe check since they never take them off). If your kid says no to glasses, you can always choose to add a blue light filter to their device instead.

Trust me, you’re not alone if you’re worried about screen time. In one survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 71% of parents admitted to being concerned about their kids spending too much time on screens (and that was before Covid and the advent of virtual school). In addition to these steps, it’s important to schedule regular eye check-ups for your school-aged children to monitor their vision. If you’re worried about your child’s eye health,make an appointment today.