BIRMINGHAM, England — So many people, especially young people and teenagers, spend a significant period of time each day staring at a screen of some kind, whether that be a computer, smartphone, tablet, or the regular old TV. Now, a new study is warning parents that all that screen time may be behind a stunning rise in children who need prescription glasses.
According to the report released by United Kingdom-based eye care company Scrivens Opticians, the percentage of 13-16 year olds in the U.K. who need glasses has nearly doubled over the past seven years — from 20% in 2012 to 35% in 2018. Two-thirds of those teens were diagnosed as being myopic, or short-sighted.
Researchers theorize that this significant increase in eye problems among young people is likely linked to excessive time spent staring at screens, which can lead to eye strain, shortsightedness, and blurred vision. In fact, the study also found that the average 13-16 year old spends around 26 hours per week staring at a smartphone, playing video games, or watching TV.
Overall, optometrists from Scrivens say that much more research is needed to determine what all this screen time is really doing to teens’ eyes, especially in the long-term.
“Children’s eyes continue to grow until early adulthood, and their vision is changing too,” comments Sheena Mangat, an optometrist with Scrivens, in a statement. “Because conditions such as short or long sightedness can happen gradually over time, neither children nor parents can ‘see the signs’, which is why regular eye checks are so important.”
Additionally, the study found that it is no easy task for parents to pry their kids away from their screens; 73% of surveyed parents said it is a “challenge” to get their children to stop staring at some type of screen for a few hours.
For reference, 2,000 British parents were surveyed, including 678 parents of teens’ aged 13-16.
The majority of surveyed parents are at least aware that too much screen time isn’t healthy for their kids, with 62% saying that they believe excessive screen time can harm their children’s eye sight, and two thirds saying they actively try and get their kids away from screens because of this belief.
However, a decent portion of surveyed parents (26%) say they have never taken their child for an eye test.
“Parents always have a long back to school check list, but getting your children’s eyes tested should be a priority,” Mangat adds.“As parents we don’t think twice about taking our kids to the GP should they become ill, or the dentist for regular checks, but arguably an annual eye health examination is just as important.
Researchers stress that taking children and teens for regular eye checkups is extremely important, especially because many adolescents may not even recognize that their eyesight isn’t as strong as it should be.
The survey portion of the study was conducted by OnePoll.