The time children in Australia spend on electronic devices has increased by five hours year on year, reveals new research* from Specsavers, with the average child now spending the equivalent of a full time job (up to 35 hours) per week staring at screens.

After the long summer holidays, no doubt children have spent time on iPads, tablets and computers. All can add value to our children’s lives, especially for education, but child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and Specsavers Optometrists are calling on parents to consider their children’s eye health. They warn that too much time spent in front of these electronic devices indoors can cause serious, long-term damage to young eyes, which in turn can have a psychological impact in later life.

Specsavers Optometrist and Director of Optometry, Peter Larsen says of the results, “The research uncovered some worrying statistics, almost one in three children aged 1-17 years have never had an eye test. That is 1.3 million children! And many children have been found to have long term eye conditions, including squinting and lazy eyes, which are treatable if caught early - ideally before a child turns eight.”

Peter continued, “Staring at screens, and being indoors for extended periods of time can increase the risk of becoming short-sighted. This means the eyes focus well only on close objects, while more distant objects appear blurred. Children are more at risk, as their eyes are still developing. The biggest message I would like to get across to parents is to make sure their children spend time outside playing, and ensure they get their eyes tested.”

A psychological impact

It’s widely known that the result of children using electronic devices so frequently can cause issues including childhood obesity, loss of social skills and sleep deprivation. And whilst compromised eye health might be a known factor too, it’s the secondary effects of compromised eye sight in children which is less frequently reported on.

Child psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg commented on these findings and the psychological impact undiagnosed eye conditions can have on children, “Poor eyesight can cause learning and behavioural problems, this is especially true for young children, who may find it harder to explain the difficulties they are having with their eyesight. They may not even be aware they have a problem at all.”   

Dr Carr-Gregg suggests physical contact is better than virtual. “Increasing the interaction between kids physically, a hug, holding hands, reading together and playing sports together, not only helps children learn social awareness but develops their motor senses and general health too.”

Setting examples and being aware

Whilst the Australian Government Department of Health shares guidelines to parents recommending that children spend no longer than two hours a day on electronic devices,1 it appears adults may actually be setting bad examples. Many adults spend their day in front of a laptop or PC, and despite this, most (60%) watch more than 3 hours of TV a day – which suggests excessive screen time.

After eight is too late

The research revealed that two thirds of parents (67%) are not aware that a squint can be treated if detected early enough. Peter Larsen explains why early detection is key. “Long term eye issues have a higher chance of being avoided if they are detected and treated before a child turns eight. Prevention is better than cure. We recommend children have their eyes tested every two years, and at Specsavers eye tests are bulk billed,” he explains.

 

 

*Galaxy Research commissioned by Specsavers

1 http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines