4 Easy Tips from Optometrists to Minimize the Risks of Screen Time


This article by Dr. Emily Becker is sponsored by See to Learn.

As we round the corner of one year since the pandemic began, and a full year of at-home or hybrid learning for most children, it’s a good time to remind ourselves of the importance of the effects that prolonged screen exposure can have on our families’ eye health. Screen time exposure has been on the rise for several years, along with its warnings. With the pandemic, it’s never been more important to check in and look for signs of vision problems, especially for those with school-aged children who have moved to virtual learning. 

In March 2020, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that 71% of the 3,640 surveyed with children 12 or younger admitted to being at least somewhat concerned about their children spending too much time on their devices, and this was before quarantine and at-home learning, which would upend many families’ screen time rules. 

Now, a year later, it’s important to remind ourselves of a few tips eye care professionals have given us to help minimize the risk of damage to our eyes from extended screen exposure.  

The 20/20/20 Rule

The 20/20/20 rule was designed by California optometrist Dr. Jeffrey Anshel as an easy reminder to take breaks and prevent eye strain. When following the rule, a person takes a 20-second break from looking at a screen every 20 minutes. During the break, the person focuses on an object 20 feet away, which relaxes the eye muscles. 

While there is little scientific research on its effectiveness, the rule is backed by the American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology as an effective way to reduce eyestrain. 

Keep Your Distance

Reading from longer distances, about 16 inches, is recommended. However, with phones it’s natural to keep the screen closer to your face. By doing so, the eyes turn in to focus on the screen, as opposed to being relaxed and in the straight-ahead position that’s natural when looking at something farther away. Dr. Knight, an optometrist and spokesperson for the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition, mentions that the closer a screen is, the harder the eyes work to focus and keep the image sharp. Over time, it can lead to fatigue of the eye muscles, which can cause headaches or other vision problems. Make sure your little one is not focusing too closely on the screen and is taking frequent breaks away from the computer. 

Look For Signs of Eyestrain

As we prepare to finish out the school year and move into summer it’s a good time to check in with yourself and your kids and ask if their eyes feel any different or if they are noticing anything not there before. For younger children, observing their behavior may reveal some insight into how their eyes are faring. Below are some signs the whole family should be looking for as warnings of potential vision problems.

Several symptoms can indicate eyestrain, including:

  • Eyes watering
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Eye redness
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Excessive blinking
  • Child feeling tired or cranky

Don’t Skip Vision Screenings

Vision screenings are essential to identifying potential issues with your family’s eyesight, especially for children, and shouldn’t be put off due to the pandemic. If you’re concerned your child has been spending too much time looking at a screen this year, you’re not alone. See to Learn has the resources to keep you informed about common vision problems and their symptoms, which can crop up at any age. The See to Learn program offers free vision assessments for 3-year-olds, regardless of family income, to ensure their eyes are ready for learning in school or at home.

If you are interested in learning more about the vision assessments, visit the See to Learn website parent page, or to find an eye doctor near you, you can use the See To Learn doctor finder tool on our website. 

Dr. Becker is a member of the Kansas Optometric Association. She completed the Leadership Kansas Optometric Association class in 2011-2012.

Dr. Becker enjoys practicing full scope optometry, including comprehensive eye examinations for glasses and contact lenses and emergency medical examinations. She especially enjoys working with children and contact lens patients. Dr. Becker is looking forward to a long career in the optometric field and serving the people of the Wichita area.