Optometrists are raising awareness of the benefits of outdoor time for children’s eyes as new research* reveals that most Australian children are spending more than double the amount of time indoors on screens than the World Health Organisation recommendation.

The research reports that Australian children spend an average of 2.5 hours on screens each day, with one in ten, or more than 436,460 children, spending more than four hours.**

The data also reveals children are spending most of their screen time at home in the lounge (68 per cent) or their bedroom (44 per cent ), compared with school/day care (15 per cent).

The findings were uncovered by Specsavers optometrists as part of a research project designed to better understand screen use amongst children and parental understanding of their child’s eye health.

Specsavers optometrist Babara Vermeulen said: “As a parent myself, I know how strong the pull of digital screens is for children and I also know that the way children learn, and play is drastically changing as technology becomes increasingly incorporated into everyday life.”

“It’s no surprise that 89 per cent of Australian parents say digital screen time is top of the list for their children’s health concerns. But what is surprising for many is that when it comes to eye health, the biggest problem with screen time is nothing to do with the actual screens. It’s simply the fact that normally when kids are on screens like phones and computers, there is a lot of near vision work that is often indoors without natural light. That’s the part that’s bad for your eyes. So other near vision,
inside work like homework and reading can have a similar negative effect on the eye.”

Of parents concerned that their child’s current level of screen time was bad for their health (56 per cent), three quarters thought it would stop them getting enough exercise (77 per cent) and two thirds believed it was bad for their eyes (69 per cent) and social skills (69 per cent). While most parents (57 per cent) believe their children should be spending less time on screens because it’s bad for their health, most are unsure of ways to tackle it.

“Staring at screens and being indoors for extended periods of time can increase the risk of myopia or becoming short-sighted. This means the eyes focus well only on close objects, while more distant objects appear blurred. Children are more at risk of this, as their eyes are still developing,” she said.

“The biggest message I would like to get across to parents is to make sure their children spend time outside playing and if parents are worried about the impacts of screen time on their child’s eye health, the best thing to do is to book in to see an optometrist for an eye test.

“The school holidays are the perfect opportunity to encourage healthy eye habits – anything from running around the garden to helping mum and dad with errands could have a huge benefit for the eyes!”

Other key findings from the research project include:

  • Those aged 13-17 are spending an average of 3.2 hours per day on screens. Those aged between 9-12 are spending an average of 2.4 hours per day on screens. Those aged between 5-8 are spending an average of 2.1 hours per day on screens. Those aged between 0-4 are spending an average of 1.9 hours per day on screens.
  • Aside from eye health concerns (52 per cent), other potential health concerns that parents had about digital screen time are that all the time spent sedentary is hampering their ability to develop their gross motor skills (47 per cent), it disrupts their sleep/ can lead to insomnia (46 per cent) and it negatively affects their mental health (42 per cent).
  • Mums (49 per cent) are more likely than Dads (34 per cent) to say that their child’s screen time is one of their biggest health concerns as a parent.
  • Of those that think that the amount of time that their children spend on screens is good for their health, their children are currently spending an average of 2.4 hours on screens per day, while of those that think the amount of time that their children spend on screens is bad for their health, they are currently spending an average of 2.7 hours on screens per day.

*YouGov Galaxy, Kids Eye Health Study prepared for Specsavers, October 2019. The study was conducted online among a representative sample of 1013 Australian parents with children under the age of 18.

**Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census, Australia, 2016.