By the time the average American child reaches age 17, their eyes will have spent the equivalent of nearly six years looking at digital devices, according to findings from a survey by VSP Vision Care. While the survey shows that parents are concerned with increasing screen time, it found that nearly 60% have little to no awareness of blue light—the high-energy light emitted from digital devices—and its impact on vision.

From smartphones, to tablets, laptops, televisions, and even CFL and LED lighting, today’s family is surrounded by devices that produce blue light. As kids and parents alike spend an increasing amount of time staring at screens, their exposure to blue light is reaching unprecedented levels. This has led to an alarming increase in reports of digital eye strain, especially amongst children who are experiencing tired, sore eyes, headaches, and trouble focusing. As blue light enters the eye, it causes visual strain because it is defocused in front of the retina and scatters, creating an effect that is visually perceived as glare. The eyes are then forced to work overtime to focus and process the wavelengths of light.

Additionally, the medical and scientific community has reached a broad consensus on blue light’s ability to suppress melatonin production, which can make it difficult to fall asleep. Researchers continue to investigate the potential long-term, cumulative effects of blue light exposure, including possible vision loss. Despite its impact on vision, key findings from VSP’s survey of over 1,000 parents show that they remain largely in the dark on blue light and how it can affect the entire family’s eye health:

  • Parents unaware of blue light. More than half of parents (58%) are either only slightly or not at all aware of blue light and its potentially harmful impacts on vision and overall health. Only 10% of parents reported that they had taken steps to reduce their family’s blue light exposure.
  • All in the family: Parents and kids alike attached to tech. Nearly two-thirds of parents think their family spends too much time on digital devices and nearly half of parents (44%) went as far as to say their kids are addicted to digital devices. Kids aren’t the only heavy devices users of course: Parents reported spending almost half their waking hours looking at screens (about 61 hours per week).
  • Eye health is not parents’ top screen time concern. Only 13% of parents ranked their family’s vision as the top concern when asked what concerns them most about digital device usage.
  • Parents set screen time limits, but find it difficult to enforce. Almost half (49%) of parents currently have or used to have limitations on children’s daily device usage but said those rules aren’t enforced. However, it remains a goal for families around the country as nearly two-thirds (63%) of parents think it’s important to unplug from technology.

“Whether we’re at home, in a classroom, or at the office, our eyes are exposed to more and more blue light in today’s device-driven world,” says VSP optometrist Gary Morgan, OD, in a release. “Technology continues to change the way we live and allows us to be more efficient and connected, but even with its benefits, we must be mindful of the impact of increased blue light exposure on our eyes. While medical research continues to study the possible long-term health impacts of blue light, both parents and their children can take practical steps now to reduce their exposure, ease digital eye strain, and maintain good vision.”

5 Tips to Combat Digital Eye Strain and Reduce Blue Light Exposure

  • Get An Eye Exam: An annual trip to the eye doctor is critical for the entire family. Ask your eye doctor about the best options to help you or your children reduce eye strain, including lenses with coatings that reflect and absorb blue light.
  • Observe The 20/20/20 Rule: Give your eyes a break every 20 minutes and spend 20 seconds looking at something at least 20 feet away.
  • Maintain Your Digital Distance: Find a comfortable working distance from your screen. This is especially important for children since the intensity of light increases exponentially the closer our eyes are to the light source. Children have shorter arms and therefore receive a more intense dose of blue light from devices. A child should hold their device as far away from their eyes as is comfortable.
  • Lower Your Screen’s Brightness: Turn down the brightness level of device screens to reduce the amount of blue light exposure, especially during the evening hours.
  • Limit Screen Time Before Bed: Blue light can slow melatonin production, which helps us sleep. Reducing exposure to blue light a couple of hours before bed may make it easier to go to sleep.