The New Electronic Babysitter

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Growing up in the ‘60s, I watched a LOT of television with friends and family. We were riveted by shows like “That Girl,” “Rat Patrol” and “Dark Shadows” and we spent countless hours on the living room floor in front of the TV. My Mom used to refer to it as the “Boob Tube” and she was constantly yelling at us to “go outside and play.”

Well, as usual, it seems like my Mom was on to something. Today’s electronic babysitter of choice is the iPhone and iPad. But the audience has changed a bit—it’s not just teens and tweens glued to the screens but toddlers and babies, some less than a year old.

According to new guidelines recently issued by the World Health Organization (WHO), children under five years old must spend less time sitting watching screens, or restrained in prams and seats, get better quality sleep and have more time for active play if they are to grow up healthy.

Specifically, for infants less than one year and one-year olds, the WHO recommended no sedentary screen time on electronic devices, such as watching TV and playing computer games. For children three- to four-years of age, sedentary screen time should be no more than one hour. In general, less screen time is better.

We all know how addictive our devices are, but what are the implications for our eyes, especially for young children whose brains and eyes are still developing? According to the National Eye Institute, since the 2000s myopia has been accelerating.

While genetics play a part in myopia, another contributing factor is eye fatigue caused by increased use of digital devices. Some studies have also pointed to “a lack of developmental cues furnished by natural sunlight or time spent focusing on objects in the distance,” according to Think About Your Eyes.

These facts are a great way to start the conversation with your patients about the dangers of electronic devices for young children.

mkane@jobson.com