Why the iPhone and iPad ‘Screen Distance’ setting should be enabled for children
- Children are at greater risk of developing myopia if they view books or screens closer than 25cm, and continuously without taking a break for 45 minutes or more.
- Children (and adults) also tend to hold screens closer than books and print material. This increases the visual demand on the eyes' focusing system
- Apple's Screen Distance setting for iPhones and iPads automatically obscures the screen when held too close, saving you the task of monitoring screen reading distance and nagging your child when screens are held too close.
In this article
Apple recently launched its ‘Screen Distance’ setting for iPhones and iPads. In this article we explain why enabling ‘Screen Distance’ may be beneficial for your child and how this setting could protect against myopia.
- How does the ‘Screen Distance’ setting work?
- How to enable ‘Screen Distance’
- What is the benefit in enabling ‘Screen Distance’ on my child’s iPhone or iPad?
- How could the iPhones ‘Screen Distance’ setting protect my child against myopia?
- Are there any disadvantages from enabling ‘Screen Distance’?
- Further information
How does the ‘Screen Distance’ setting work
When ‘Screen Distance’ is enabled, the iPhone or iPad activates the TrueDepth camera that powers Face ID, which then measures the distance to the face during use. Apple informs that the camera itself is not recording during this process and is only utlizing the focusing system to measure distance.
The iPhone or iPad then displays a warning if it is moved closer than 30cm to the face it will display a warning that can only be reset by moving the device away from the face beyond 30cm.
How to enable ‘Screen Distance’
‘Screen Distance’ requires Face ID, so is only available on iPhones and iPads with Face ID. On these devices ‘Screen Time’ can be activated from the main Settings screen on the Screen Time tab.
What is the benefit in enabling ‘Screen Distance’ on my child’s iPhone or iPad
Research has shown that when children hold books or screens too close to their eyes, and for long periods of time, this increases the risk of developing myopia, also known as short-sightedness.1 Read more about this below. It has also been shown that screen viewing reduces the rate of blinking,2 which can lead to dry, uncomfortable or red eyes. Blinking is an essential process to keep the eye surface healthy and vision as clear as possible.
The iPhone’s ‘Screen Distance’ setting aligns with the Elbow Rule, that many eye doctors and optometrists recommend to children, where a book or digital device should be held no closer than the child’s elbow-to-hand distance to avoid them being too close to the eyes.
Children (and adults) also tend to hold screens closer than books and print material. This increases the visual demand on the eyes' focussing system.3,4 Digital eye strain may be suffered by up to 50% of people who use screens, with symptoms including sore, tired, dry eyes and headaches.4
Children (and adults) also tend to hold screens closer than books and print material.
Increasing the viewing distance of time spent on a screen can benefit visual development and eye health in kids. It is also important to take regular breaks from screen time.
Learn more from our article All about screen time and close work.
How could the iPhones ‘Screen Distance’ setting protect my child against myopia
Myopia is an eye condition which causes blurred far vision, and is also known as short-sightedness or near-sightedness.
Once myopia develops in children, it typically deteriorates every few to several months until the late teens or early 20s, causing worsening vision.5 Myopia is a significant concern to quality of life in children and teenagers, and poses a risk to long-term eye health.6
Children are at greater risk of developing myopia if they view books or screens closer than 25cm, and continuously without taking a break for 45 minutes or more.1 The new iOS Screen Distance setting can encourage kids to avoid these very close viewing distances which can be harmful to vision and eye health.
This graphic shows three simple rules for screen time, based on guidelines from national and international expert organizations on child health.
Are there any disadvantages from enabling ‘Screen Distance’
Other than maybe fielding complaints from your child about the Screen Distance warnings, there are no disadvantages for ensuring a safe screen viewing distance. On the flip side we’ve just covered how maintaining a safe screen distance can reduce eye strain and dry eye symptoms, and the growing evidence that this can also be protective against myopia development and myopia progression.
Although maybe annoying at first, children are generally highly adaptable and will likely soon learn how to stop the annoying messages. The benefit to you is that their response to prevent the messages ensures they meet the safe screen distance recommendations without you needing to monitor and nag about holding the screen too close.
We all likely remember being told by a ‘grown up’ during our own childhood to move back from the screen (of the TV variety!) - perhaps Apple’s initiative will confine this old saying to the history books for the children of today.
The My Kids Vision Knowledge Centre contains age specific articles covering the latest research on myopia and how it can affect children. On this topic on screen time you can find age specific information on screen time in the following articles:
- Screen time for babies and toddlers: what is OK?
- Screen time for children: how much is OK?
- Screen time for teenagers: how can we manage it?
- Screen time in adults: how much is too much?
The following public bodies offer recommendations on screen time:
- Li SM, Li SY, Kang MT, Zhou Y, Liu LR, Li H, Wang YP, Zhan SY, Gopinath B, Mitchell P, Wang N; Anyang Childhood Eye Study Group. Near Work Related Parameters and Myopia in Chinese Children: the Anyang Childhood Eye Study. PLoS One. 2015 Aug 5;10(8):e0134514.
- Moon JH, Kim KW, Moon NJ. Smartphone use is a risk factor for pediatric dry eye disease according to region and age: a case control study. BMC Ophthalmol. 2016;16(1):188.
- Boccardo L. Viewing distance of smartphones in presbyopic and non-presbyopic age. J Optom. 2021 Apr-Jun;14(2):120-126.
- Sheppard AL, Wolffsohn JS. Digital eye strain: prevalence, measurement and amelioration. BMJ Open Ophthalmol. 2018 Apr 16;3(1):e000146.
- Hou W, Norton TT, Hyman L, Gwiazda J; COMET Group. Axial Elongation in Myopic Children and its Association With Myopia Progression in the Correction of Myopia Evaluation Trial. Eye Contact Lens. 2018 Jul;44(4):248-259. (link)
- Tideman JW, Snabel MC, Tedja MS, van Rijn GA, Wong KT, Kuijpers RW, Vingerling JR, Hofman A, Buitendijk GH, Keunen JE, Boon CJ, Geerards AJ, Luyten GP, Verhoeven VJ, Klaver CC. Association of Axial Length With Risk of Uncorrectable Visual Impairment for Europeans With Myopia. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2016 Dec 1;134(12):1355-1363. (link)