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My son (fifth grade) is spending literally 6 hours a day on a screen for school. And more if we also count downtime when he still wants to play video games. But he tells me he’s getting headaches, and I see him rubbing his eyes and I think he’s getting some eye strain. What do you recommend for how I can help him? Should I buy those blue light glasses?

Headaches in Houston

A photo of Caroline.

Caroline Cahuantzi

Caroline has worked in education since 2006, serving as a classroom and adult educator, teacher evaluator and coach, and school operations manager. These days, she’s EdNavigator’s resident operations and technology wizard.

Dear Headaches:

I’ve been getting bombarded with Instagram ads for blue light glasses too, so clearly digital eye strain is a common problem these days, for kids and adults alike.

I did a little digging, and it’s not totally clear that blue light glasses are the answer here. For one thing, humans are exposed to a lot more blue light from the sun every day than we are from screens, even if we’re looking at them for hours. Of course, that doesn’t mean blue light is good—there is evidence that blue light exposure can mess with our body’s melatonin production and disrupt sleep, so if your son is using a screen a lot in the evening hours, blue light glasses (or a blue light screen for his device) could be useful. (That’s also why powering down well before bedtime is good for sleep.)

If you’re worried about daytime eye strain, though, you might be better off saving your money on the blue light glasses and encouraging your son to adopt the “20-20-20” rule instead: Every 20 minutes, he should look up from the screen and focus on something at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. You can also try adjusting the brightness on his screen. If it’s a closer match to the other light in the room, it’ll cause less eye strain.

Another option? Have him close his eyes in a quiet, dark room for 10 or 15 minutes in the middle of the day, perhaps when he has an offline lesson or during his lunch break. It’ll give his eyes, and his brain, a chance to reboot.

“If you’re worried about daytime eye strain, though, you might be better off saving your money on the blue light glasses and encouraging your son to adopt the “20-20-20” rule instead: Every 20 minutes, he should look up from the screen and focus on something at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds.”

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