American adults spend over eight hours a day staring at screens. It’s a wild statistic, with upsetting implications — over the course of a lifetime, that equates to more than 30 years of screen time. Even more disturbing, though, is that our kids aren’t that far behind. A team of Canadian researchers recently found that eight-year-olds spend five hours a day on screens. Quarantine has only exacerbated the issue.
A static lifestyle predicated on blue light binges can negatively affect everything from mental health to posture, but lately, medical professionals are especially concerned about the rise of myopia, or nearsightedness, in children.
Myopia is a genetic trait; if you have two myopic parents, your eyesight is likely going to suffer. Environmental cues play a role, too, though. As The New York Times points out, there was a 20% increase in the prevalence of myopia amongst youth from the early 1970s to the 2000s.
As this trend has continued (and exploded in Southeast Asia, where up to 90% of children are myopic), two main culprits have emerged: too much screen time and too little time spent outdoors. Screens do strain the eyes, especially developing eyes in children, but more than that, they functionally keep kids inside. And that’s a real issue — consistent exposure to daylight is crucial as young eyes take their shape.
Spending time outside releases neurotransmitters, like dopamine, that help elongate the eye. “Longer” eyes are better at interpreting distant objects, and may not need corrective eyewear like glasses or contact lenses, if not Lasik eye surgery. Not to mention, myopia could mean more than just a lifetime of squinting. It also increases one’s risk of developing cataracts or glaucoma.
Here’s the prescription: if you’ve got kids, get them outside. Especially this summer, when school — which may well have been a screen for the last year lets out — and there’s no longer any reason for them to be poring over one all day.