Many of us while growing up had their parents admonish you for getting too close to the TV with the warning “You’re going to ruin your eyes!”
That same warning is given to many kids by their parents today with a more technologically advanced modification: “You’re ruining your eyes by spending too much time on your iPad!” In fact, many times, the first thing that happens when I tell parents that their kids need glasses is they turn to their child and say “No more iPad!”
While I commend these parents for caring about the eyes of their children, it’s worth discussing whether these warnings have any merit. Do tablets and phones damage the eyes of our kids?
I’ll examine the question from two perspectives: first, looking at the eyes alone; second, looking at the development of a child as a whole.
Despite the warnings from parents, there has been no evidence that TV, tablets, or phones do any irreversible damage to the eyes. And there have been a lot of studies trying to find a link! Using these devices does not cause a need for glasses.
While that’s great news, it does not mean these devices can’t cause some problems. One common complaint when people look at things up close for long periods of time (whether it’s reading a book, using an iPad, or studying math) is that the eyes can get strained. The muscles in the eyes have to work hard to focus close up so after a while of this they can get tired. That’s why the most important advice from an eye perspective is to TAKE BREAKS! Don’t let your kids play forever and make sure they take breaks every 20 minutes or so.
As far as a minimum age for using tablets and the like, as far as the eyes go, there is no minimum age. But that is just the eyes! As a parent, you are concerned about the development of your child as a whole, not just their eyes. So let’s take a look about how tablets can affect the development of your child and what you can do to help.
Your Child’s Development
The main way that young children learn and develop is by interacting with the world around them, especially with the people around them. The biggest concern about screen time in children is that it takes them away from that interaction. When they are looking at a screen, they don’t have that back and forth interaction that they would get while playing with you. They aren’t learning how the world around them works. Also, they aren’t moving or being active.
These are the main reasons the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any screen use before 2 years of age and limited (less than 2 hours/day) after that. Your children will develop best by interacting with people, not screens.
In the past year or two, much of the discussion among pediatricians has changed away from “How much screen time?” and has focused on “What is being used?”. What shows and apps your child uses seems to be just as crucial, if not more, than how much they are used.
Studies show that shows and apps that encourage pro-social behaviour and learning are actually effective. They also show that violence or sexualized material can have serious negative effects on the development of our children. We really have to worry about the games and apps that we download for our children. Often the “free-to-play” have huge costs in exposing our children to inappropriate advertising or by encouraging them to make purchases to unlock items. Be careful with the “free” apps.
But instead of focusing on what not to use, I want to point you in a direction that will give you many options of great shows, apps, and games for kids. There’s a website called Common Sense Media and it is amazing. You can search by age and it rates shows, apps, websites, and more by how appropriate it is and how fun it is.
The technology in our world is amazing. I love it! There’s so many ways it can help our lives and be fun. It’s great introducing our kids to it, we just need to be sure it’s at the right time and with the right stuff.