Our kids seem to be naturals when it comes to using smartphones and tablets, but all that close-up screen time may be doing a number on their eyes.
“We are seeing a lot more nearsighted children these days,” says Dr. Thomas Yau, an opthamologist in Silver Spring, Md.
A lot of factors may play a role in the increased number, including better screening and genetics, since nearsighted parents are more likely to have nearsighted kids.
However, the rise in the use of hand held electronic devices may be making the situation worse.
“One of our concerns is that kids are holding things very close to their eye,” says Yau.
He suggests that over time, this constant staring at close objects may reduce children’s ability to focus on things farther away.
The result could be an increased risk of nearsightedness, or myopia.
How big is the problem?
Myopia is steadily on the rise, according to the National Eye Institute of the National Institutes of Health.
The NEI says there were 34,119,279 cases in 2010, and they project 39,094,141 cases by 2030, when today’s kids are grown.
Parents may well remember similar concerns about the dangers of watching television.
A major difference exists, however: Yau says standard computer and television screens aren’t quite as hard on the eyes as today’s handheld devices, because there is more distance involved.
So what should these moms and dads do to protect their kids’ eyes at a time when screens keep getting ever smaller?
Yau says limiting screen time is very important.
However, in a digitally-infused world, “the games, the devices, the apps, are certainly attention-grabbing” and enforcing limits may not be easy.
A better idea, according to Yau, may be to encourage kids to engage more in activities that are not electronic and do not involve a screen.
In other words, convince them to go outside and play in sunlight.
The outdoor play will not only improve their fitness; it will get them to use their distance vision as well, Yau says.