Young Children and Electronic Devices

The average child between the ages of 0 and 8 spend about 58 minutes daily watching television and 48 minutes daily engaging with a mobile device in the US.  Since electronic devices are not going away the key is to use them in moderation.  While the TV watching time is down by 11 minutes a day compared to 6 years ago in that age group the average screen time for mobile devices is up by 43 minutes daily.

In a survey, "The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight 2017" other noteworthy findings include:

  • 49% of parents report their kids watch TV, videos or play video games in the hour prior to bedtime and have these devices in their rooms despite a recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that advise against it.
  • 67% of parents believe their children learn from screen media though they are concerned about the violence, sexual content and advertising their children see.
  • 43% of children under two are not read to on a daily basis despite a contrary recommendation from the AAP that they should be read to from infancy.

"The results are grounds for concern", says Dr. Glen Steele, a professor of pediatric optometry at Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee.  "It is a significant concern that device use is increasing so rapidly.  The use of mobile devices requires more sophisticated visual function to participate.

The young visual system is not prepared for this type of sustained activity but it is socially compulsive; all their friends are doing it.  When they force themselves on through the discomfort, secondary vision problems are created particularly in focusing.  We do know that visually, the child must defocus in gaming.  This potentially reduces the child's ability to sustain near-focus activities, such as reading when they are younger."

Prolonged smartphone use also has been linked to dry eye underscoring the need for routine comprehensive eye examinations on a yearly basis.  Doctors of Optometry and parents have a role in monitoring use and supporting children's visual development.  Doctors can inform parents about the "20/20/20 rule"; take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at something 20 feet away.  Looking at screens for long periods of time, causing near-point stress can lead to headaches, blurriness, and eyestrain and can distract children from the typical visual development needed for traditional classroom activities.