Like many parents, you may caution your child not to watch TV too close, maybe because your parents used to do the same when you were small. But does sitting close to the TV ruin eyesight, or is this only a myth?
The short answer is that TV watching in moderation doesn’t hurt children’s eyes.
But watching too much TV may affect young children in other ways, so it’s important to understand the range of effects TV can have on children.
So, how does TV viewing affect our eyes and our children’s eyes?
Why Watching TV Too Close Doesn’t Damage Eyesight
Where does the idea that TV can damage the eyes come from? Maybe from a time when TVs emitted a lot more radiation than they do today.
Back in the 1960s, when TVs were a lot bulkier, General Electric released a range of color TVs that caused up to 100,000 more radiation than health officials at the time deemed safe.
The company recalled the TVs and fixed the problem. But that TV health scare may have at least in part given rise to concerns about the risks of watching TV.
Most TV sets do not give off any measurable levels of radiation, according to the US Food and Drug Administration. On this account, your children are safe.
But does watching TV affect eyesight? According to an article published in Scientific American, watching television from any distance—including up close—doesn’t cause physical damage to the eyes.
However, watching too much TV may cause eye strain and fatigue. When watching TV, the eyes continuously focus on the screen. Short viewing periods won’t overtax the eyes.
But long bouts in front of the screen do. As a result, muscles in and around the eye can become strained.
Symptoms of TV eye strain include eye pain, soreness, discomfort, dry eyes, blurry vision, headaches, itchiness, and light sensitivity. Eye strain goes away with rest and is often gone after a night of good sleep.
Some parents also ask, “Is watching TV in the dark bad for your eyes?” There’s no evidence to prove this.
But watching TV in the dark may increase eye strain and fatigue and cause headaches. This happens because the screen creates a bright contrast with its dark surroundings.
What About Nearsightedness?
Nearsightedness or myopia is a common vision condition in which distant objects appear blurry while near ones remain clear.
A recent study found that high levels of screen time can increase the risk of myopia by as much as 80% in children and young adults.
However, the study focused on smart devices and computer screen time, rather than TV time. More research is needed to understand the exact effect of extended close-up TV screen time on children’s eyes.
When the eyes focus on near objects for long periods, such as a screen, the eyeballs may elongate, which could increase the risk of myopia. Children and young adults up until around 21 years of age are especially vulnerable because their eyes are actively growing.
However, it’s also possible that a child may sit close to the TV because he or she already has myopia and doesn’t see the screen clearly from a distance.
If your child constantly sits near the TV, take him or her for an eye check to rule out myopia.
Is LED TV Harmful for the Eyes?
LED lights are energy-efficient, so no wonder they’ve made their way into smart TVs too.
But they produce high-energy blue light, which according to some studies may damage the retina, increase the risk for age-related macular degeneration, and disrupt the body’s internal clock, the circadian rhythm, affecting sleep.
Children’s eyes don’t filter blue light from LED screens as well as adults’ eyes, which may lead to digital eye strain. It may also increase the risk of childhood nearsightedness.
So, can TV damage your eyes and your child’s eyes after all?
These studies focus on LED radiation and the effects of blue light rather than LED TVs.
The findings are debatable—a more extensive study would need to prove clearly that LEDs in TVs damage the eyes for eye experts and health organizations to begin issuing warnings.
Is TV Bad for Kids in Other Ways?
Quite a few studies have associated TV exposure in young children with a host of development risks. In infants, more than 2 hours of screen exposure a day has been linked to significant language delays.
Other studies have linked high exposure to background TV in children under 5 to attention deficits and negative effects on cognitive development, language acquisition, and short-term memory.
Prolonged screen time in small children can also lead to poorer child-parent interactions.
The bottom line is that even if sitting too close to the TV doesn’t necessarily ruin eyesight, it’s best to encourage your child not to spend hours and hours in front of the TV every day. Whether they sit in front of it or on the couch.
How to Protect Your Child’s Eyes from Too Much TV
Children less than 1 year shouldn't spend time in front of screens, the World Health Organization recommends. For older children, you can limit screen time and follow a few other practical tips.
- Reduce sedentary screen time for children 1-5 years of age to 1-hour of co-viewing with a parent or sibling.
- Reduce non-school-related screen time for children 5-17 years old to two hours a day. (Or at least try!)
- Make your kid's bedroom TV free.
- Don’t let your kid watch TV or use any screens in the two hours before they go to bed.
- Replace screen time with other enjoyable activities, preferably outdoors.
- Watch TV with your children for better control over the content and to create more opportunities to interact with them. This will prevent solitary passive staring at the screen for extended periods.
- Encourage your children to take breaks from the screens at least every 20 minutes. Teach them the 20-20-20 rule—every 20 seconds, look away from the screen for 20 seconds at something at least 20 feet away.
- Lastly, don’t forget to get your child’s eyes tested by an eye doctor, at least once every two years for school-age children and more often for smaller children.
You can also take our online dry eye test with your child. Eyestrain can be a contributing factor to dry eye disease, which causes visual discomfort. Left untreated, dry eye disease symptoms can become worse over time.