Are all those screens messing up our kids eyes?

I grew up with really good eyesight until I started working with computers in high school, then went to college and spent hours and hours every day staring at computer screens. Then like so many young adults i found that I needed glasses, and needed increasingly strong prescriptions as the years passed. Maybe it was just me growing older, but if you read the research, there is indeed a connection between screens, computer screens, TV screens, tablet screens, smartphone screens, and eye health, and it’s not a good one.

And I really worry about my children and their eyesight. In the last 18mo two of my three children have had to get glasses for reading and both have spent a fair amount of time gazing at screens.

kids and eye damage from screens

The prevailing theory is that it’s blue light that’s messing up their eyes. Blue like the sky. But at night, we’d never see a bright blue and now that’s a major component of what we see 24×7 with fluorescents, TVs and computer screens. What’s just as important: children lack certain ocular pigments that us adults have, pigments that help shield them from the more damaging effects of all this unnatural blue light.

There’s also a blinking factor that’s interesting: Normally, we humans blink about 18 times a minute (that’s about every 3 seconds) but studies show we blink half that often while using computers and other digital screen devices, whether for work or play. Which means eyes dry out and contribute to fatigue.

And the great outdoors? Turns out that the lens of a child allows 70% more UV rays to reach the delicate retina than in an adult. Meaning they should be wearing sunglasses as much as possible when outdoors, it’s even more important than with us adults!

Back to that blue light. I hadn’t heard of it, personally, but a bit of research revealed that “youths under the age of 20, and especially very young children, have little or no yellowing of the lens. Therefore any UV or blue light which enters the eye is unfiltered and strikes the retina at full‑strength, exposing not only the retina, but the lens to damage.”

“Blue light wavelengths and part of the blue spectrum are focused in front of the retina, while green and yellow are focused on the retina, and some red spectrum is focused behind. Thus blue light contributes little to visual acuity and visual perception loses sharpness as the blue light component adds significantly to the eye’s energy expenditure for focusing, and if reduced can greatly reduce eyestrain without loss of acuity. There is mounting medical evidence that prolonged exposure to blue light may permanently damage the eyes, contribute to the formation of cataracts and to the destruction of cells in the center of the retina”

girl wearing blue light blocking unity glasses

One obvious thing to do is to limit your children’s time on screens, particularly at night. In particular, looking away for a few minutes every hour can make a big difference in blinking, eye moisture levels and avoiding headaches. Think teen boys and video games, for example.

But one other strategy is to buy a specially designed pair of glasses like the Unity lenses shown in the pic above, glasses that the viewer will forget are on their eyes after a few seconds, but will help minimize that blue light frequency.

Kids aren’t going to pay attention, so it’s up to us.

2 comments on “Are all those screens messing up our kids eyes?

  1. Scary topic. I fear that in 20 years we’ll have a ton more info on this, but for some folks it’ll be too late. Our increasing reliance on screens is something people of all ages can’t avoid. Taking mini breaks sounds like a great temp solution.

  2. Eyesight in the near future might be a common problem. 30% of the american population have myopia(nearsightedness). This will continue to grow in the following years, unless we discover new screens that emit less glare and are soft on the eye, contact lens and glasses will be the only cure. Aside from LASIK of course.

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