Preventing Eye Strain During Your Child’s Screen-Based Learning in COVID-19

As we kick off a new school year during the coronavirus pandemic, there’s a good chance that screen-based instruction is part of your child’s lesson plan. All that screen-time could lead to eye strain – but luckily, some simple precautions can help.

Connecticut Children’s pediatric ophthalmologist Janine Collinge, MD, shares tips.

Want more resources? Check out our Back to School Kit!

Girl waves at laptop screen during distance learning

Problem: Digital eye strain.

Too much time looking at a screen can cause “digital eye strain,” which can mean everything from headaches to dry or irritated eyes to blurry vision. These effects usually go away on their own with enough time away from a screen – but the best thing for your child’s eye health is to prevent digital eye strain in the first place.

Solutions:

  • Take breaks. Practice the 20-20-20 rule: When your child is using a screen (or doing any activity where they’re focused on something closer than two feet away), set a timer for every 20 minutes. When it goes off, have your child look at a spot at least 20 feet away and count to 20. Repeat.
  • Blink more, and keep eyes moisturized. To prevent dry eyes, help your child get in the habit of blinking often when they’re using a screen. You can also try “artificial tears,” one drop in both eyes up to four times a day. These are available over the counter at your pharmacy. Brands like Systane or Refresh or the generic alternative work well. Stay away from anything that says “Gets the red out.”
  • Change up your materials. Keep printed books around the home as well as e-books, and encourage your child to switch between the two.
  • Create a good working environment. Set up your child’s home office or workstation at a 90-degree angle from windows, and lower screen brightness indoors to a comfortable level. Don’t use screens outdoors.

> Related: Media and Your Child’s Development

Problem: Nearsightedness.

Nearsightedness (trouble seeing things clearly at a distance) is on the rise worldwide, and recent studies suggest that spending a lot of time looking at anything up-close – like books, toys, art projects, and yes, screens – is partly to blame. Our eyes work harder to focus on anything closer than two feet. Over time, without breaks, this can potentially affect eye development.

Solutions:

  • Encourage distance viewing. Place screens about two feet away, and at eye level or lower. Tip: Measure and mark a spot for with tape on your child’s home office desk showing where they should place devices.
  • Change up activities. Make sure your child spends enough time outdoors, where they’ll naturally be able to look into the distance and relax their eyes. Don’t forget sunglasses to protect eyes against UV exposure!
  • Take breaks. Practice the 20-20-20 rule, explained above.

> Related: Creating Your Child’s Ideal “Home Office” for Distance Learning

Problem: Trouble sleeping.

Sleep is key for your child’s healthy development. But using screens close to bedtime has been shown to get in the way of a good night’s sleep.

Solutions:

  • Prepare for bedtime. Make a rule for no screen-time at least an hour before bed, especially for younger kids.
  • Maintain a good sleeping environment. Keep screens out of your child’s bedroom.

> Related: 3 Bedtime Challenges Your Kids Might Be Having Now – and How to Solve Them

Get regular eye screenings for your child.

For your child to do well in school – whether in the classroom or distance learning – they need to be able to see well. So make sure to talk to your pediatrician about any vision concerns. If your child is having problems, schedule a check-up with an ophthalmologist or another pediatric vision specialist.

Schedule an eye screening now >>

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