Limiting screen time has always been a concern of modern parents. Even before smartphones and tablets, parents were worrying about televisions and movie screens.

Over the years, the concerns have changed somewhat. Years ago, the worry was that too many hours in front of television or movies would corrupt or weaken the mind, whereas today we tend to concern ourselves more with eyes strain and the potential effects of blue light.

But how valid are these concerns? Is there a limit to how much time a child should spend staring at a screen? In this post, we’ll go over some of the science surrounding this topic and try to reach a reasonable conclusion.

Health concerns

Modern technology helps us accomplish great feats of communication and learning, but too much of a good thing can have side effects. There are some health downsides to staring at a screen. First let’s look at the possible effects of excessive screen time on vision and overall health.

Physical symptoms

Staring at a screen for too long can cause several immediate symptoms. After a lengthy session with an iphone or tablet, children may experience the following:

  • Eye strain
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Neck pain
  • Stiffness

If any of these symptoms occur, it’s a pretty big sign that a child is spending too much time with their electronic devices.

Blue light exposure

The full effects of blue light exposure from screens is unknown due to this current generation being the first one to grow up with tablets, smartphones and other devices. Years from now, we’ll likely have a wealth of data to look at, but right now we’re stuck with speculation from the limited data we have.

The amount of blue light emitted from a screen pales in comparison to that emitted from the sun, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t risks from the added exposure that screen time gives us. Research into blue light and eye health is ongoing. We know that blue light can be harmful and potentially contributes to macular degeneration, but we don’t know what quantity of blue light crosses the line from normal exposure to overexposure. There may be added risks with blue light and children since their eyes are still developing.

Many people choose to be proactive about blue light by limiting screen time, using blue light-filtering screen settings and even wearing special glasses.

Sunglasses that block 100 percent of UV light from the sun may also help in the long run, as they limit exposure to blue light, as well. 39DollarGlasses has a huge selection of UV-blocking sunglasses designed just for kids. 

Sleep disruption

While the effects of blue light on our eyes are not yet certain, we do know that blue light has an interesting effect on the brain. Because humans are diurnal (the opposite of nocturnal), our brains want to be active during the day and asleep at night. We’ve known for years that night shifts are far from healthy, posing the risk of many psychological and physical problems, especially over time. 

Blue light triggers a “daytime” response in our brains. Put simply, exposure to blue light at night can trick the brain into thinking it is still day. This disrupts sleep rhythm, and many experts recommend shutting off electronics several hours before bed. Disruptions in sleep patterns are especially risky for children, who need quality sleep to ensure proper health and development.

Developmental concerns

There is concern that too much screen time can hinder a child’s mental, emotional and physical development. Children are particularly vulnerable to harmful influences during their developmental years. Good health practices during a child’s developmental years can prevent problems later in life.

Studies have shown a correlation between higher rates of screen time and poor performance in academics, athletics and overall behavior. However, a concrete causal link has not yet been established. It could be that children who spend hours a day in front of screens are simply missing out on the opportunity to practice motor skills or engage in educational activities.

Protect eye health

The general conclusion is that while excessive screen time has the potential to cause health and development problems in children, more research is needed to determine the exact effects and to create comprehensive guidelines.

For now, the World Health Organization recommends that children under five have limited or no screen time. Older children should be limited to one or two hours a day. Concerns about sleep can be assuaged by eliminating screen time before bed. Encouraging children to spend some time each day playing and learning away from screens can foster healthy development.

As children grow older, controlling screen time may become more difficult. Know that most cell phones can be equipped with apps that limit use. Encourage healthy habits starting at a young age and make sure all children visit the eye doctor at least once every two years.

Routine comprehensive eye exams give an optometrist the chance to spot eye problems before they become serious. Since children’s eyes change so frequently, so too will their eyeglasses prescriptions. Having an updated prescription allows you to shop around for the best deals on prescription eyeglasses. For stylish, high-quality frames that your children will actually want to wear, go to