Article

BORN TO BE DIGITAL?

Here’s what ECPs should know about today’s kids + their thirst for technology

DMYTRO ZINKEVYCH / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Americans’ love affair with the digital screen seems to be here to stay.

And it seems children and teens are just as locked in as adults…staring at Smart Boards, laptops, and tablets all day at school, then spending much of their free time nose-down on their phones. Our children are exposed to an unprecedented amount of screen time—screens that emit blue light and cause digital eye strain. With more of our work, play, and education coming in digital form every day, this is our new normal.

“The amount of digital device time that this age group is exposed to is really astounding,” says Heidi Pham-Murphy, O.D., of Visions Optometry in Sacramento, CA.

Research from VSP Vision Care backs her up: Nearly 50% of parents surveyed say their children are “addicted” to digital devices.

THE SCREEN LIFE

According to Common Sense Media, tweens (ages 8-12) spend more than 4.5 hours per day on digital devices, and teens (ages 13-18) spend more than 6.5 hours per day.

An eye-opening study by VSP Vision Care reports that by age 13, the average American child owns three digital devices and has up to 70 hours a week of screen time (including school and homework). By 17, the average child has spent nearly 50,000 hours on digital devices (about a third of their life).

A policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Communications and Media states that three-quarters of teens own smart phones and one-quarter of teenagers describe themselves as “constantly connected” to the Internet.

DIGITAL DISTRESS

Though still being studied, the long-term effects of blue light on eye health may include macular degeneration, cataracts, and other retinal diseases as today’s children get older. Right now, however, it’s causing eye fatigue and eye strain—headaches, dry eye (blink rates reduce when staring at a screen), blurred vision, and neck pain.

In addition, several studies now point to blue light as the culprit in sleep issues as it can interrupt natural circadian rhythms. This is especially true when digital devices are used right up until bedtime.

And it’s taking a toll on young patients. VSP O.D.s say they are seeing a 38% increase in reported symptoms in kids from screen exposure.

DMYTRO ZINKEVYCH / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

NOTES FROM THE FIELD

Here, EB checks in with two eyecare professionals—one in a full-service family optometric practice and one who owns a children-only optical—to learn how they approach the topics of blue light and digital eye strain with patients, and the lens products that work best for them. Our experts:

» Heidi Pham-Murphy, O.D.,
Vision Optometry in Sacramento, CA

» Danielle Crull, ABOM, owner of
A Child’s Eyes in Mechanicsburg and York, PA

Every Child

“Kids up to 21 can have extremely varied lifestyles,” but they all involve screen time for either recreation or study (usually both), says Dr. Pham-Murphy.

Starting the Discussion

Both ECPs say the discussion should start with lifestyle questions about screen exposure, and continue throughout the exam and dispensing process.

“I ask patients if [their kids] express eye fatigue or sleep disturbances, and then we talk about how that could point to a blue light issue,” notes Crull.

Pro Tip: Starting around age 7, bring the child into the discussion to talk about symptoms of eye strain, etc., advises Crull.

Special Needs Children

Blue light exposure/digital fatigue can be of special concern among kids with special needs who use devices as their primary source of communication.

“These kids will often not be able to communicate eye strain or fatigue, but often the parents will know if sleep is an issue,” says Crull. “I think in the case of these kiddos, it’s best to initiate an open discussion about what blue-filter lenses could do for them.”

Go-To Lenses

Dr. Pham-Murphy: Trivex with TechShield Blue (VSP Optics) for everyday wear; SV or Sync (HOYA Vision Care), BluTech lenses with AR treatment. “I like the new anti-fatigue lens designs that put a small add on the bottom of single-vision lenses.”

Crull: Vision Ease Clear Blue Filter lenses. “I look for the clearest possible lens that blocks the highest-energy blue light.”

AWARENESS LEVEL: POOR

Though we in the industry may be awash with blue light info, many believe that we still need to step up our game in sharing the knowledge with parents.

60%
of parents are only “slightly” aware or not aware at all of blue light and its impacts on vision*

13% ONLY
of parents say they are concerned about the connection between screen time and eye health*

10% ONLY
of parents have taken steps to reduce their kids’ blue light exposure*

38%
of parents believe their children are too young to experience vision problems#

* Source: VSP Vision Care | #Source: Transitions Optical