Due to the COVID-19 pandemic we have all spent much more time looking at screens than ever before. Though we do not know definitively what the fall semester will look like, we know that it will likely involve more screen time! This is concerning to many parents. Mindfully considering how much time our kids are using screens is so important. Though in most scenarios, we cannot change school requirements, we can feel empowered to help our kids use screens with certain guidelines.
There is a great article from HealthyChildren.org (Screen time and eye health) that offers parents some useful tips for screen time. A brief summary of their recommendations is found here.
- Create a media use plan. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great tool to help families do this: Media Use Plan. Though the plan may be less ideal and look different now than it did before the COVID-19 pandemic, having a plan helps parents and children understand screen use expectations.
- Screens should not interfere with sleep. Keeping screens out of a child/teen’s bedroom and restricting screen time starting the hour before bed is essential for good sleep quality.
- Position screens in the best location and assess room lighting. “Make sure the screen on your child's desktop or laptop computer is slightly below eye level. Looking up at a screen opens eyes wider and dries them out quicker.” Ideal positioning for devices varies; recommended spacing is for mobile phones “at one foot, desktop devices and laptops at two feet, and roughly 10 feet for TV screens (depending on how big the screen is). Adjusting the font size—especially on smaller screens—so it's twice as big as your child can comfortably read may also help reduce eye fatigue.” In addition to screen position, the lighting in the room is important. Lighting “should be roughly half what it would be for other activities such as writing on paper or working on crafts. Try to position computers so that light from uncovered windows, lamps and overhead light fixtures aren't shining directly on screens.”
- Take a break indoors. To prevent eye strain, “the American Optometric Association recommends the 20/20/20 rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. In addition, children should walk away from the screen for at least 10 minutes every hour.” During these 10 minute breaks, encourage your child to blink often. Staring at a screen for long periods of time may minimize blinking and cause symptoms of eye dryness.
- Take a break outdoors. We should all be exercising as many days of the week as possible. Having a “brain break” from screens is so helpful for our mental and physical health, as well as giving our eyes a break. Exercise can truly be running or playing a sport, but it can also be as simple as actively playing outside.