Will sitting close to the TV hurt my kids’ eyes?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston

Q: I have an son who’s 11 and a daughter who’s 9½, and for many years, they have sat close to the TV when watching. I have asked them to sit farther away, and they do move back maybe a foot…but they always go back to viewing the show close up, even if the screen is a 40” color flat screen. Any studies that show why? Any concerns? My wife and I sit 8 to 10 feet from the TV.

-Up Close and Personal, in Rochester Hills, MI

A: Dear Up Close,

Concern about sitting close to TV screens, like concern about reading in low light, is founded more on what our parents told us when we were little than on research. The worries about sitting close dates from the (not so long ago) time when TVs were actually “tubes”—cathode ray tubes, that is—and people were uncertain about how the cathode radiation emitted might affect a viewer’s eyes. Today’s TVs flatscreens only emit the light you see, which removes that concern. And there’s no evidence that sitting close to either kind of screen hurts your eyes.

That said, the fact that your children sit so close to the TV may be a sign that they are near-sighted and that this distance is where they best resolve the pixels of color, light, and darkness into a coherent image. Bring them in for an eye exam to see whether they need glasses.

If their eyes are fine, then they probably sit close because they like having the screen fill their peripheral vision. That shouldn’t cause any problems. Just make sure that they aren’t staring at screens all the time—that can cause eye strain and, of course, will take time away from all of the other activities they need to accomplish in a day to be happy and healthy.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®

  • Debaroberts

    My daughter has an optic nerve disorder and resulting low vision.  We first suspected an issue because she sat so close to tv at a young age and said she couldn’t see it if back farther.  It is a good reminder to parents to make sure this is not a symptom of vision problems.

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