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Is sitting too close to the TV really bad for your eyes?

        Health | Eye

We know it's hard to admit, but your parents were probably right when they told you not to sit this close to the TV.
We know it's hard to admit, but your parents were probably right when they told you not to sit this close to the TV.
Donald Iain Smith/Moment/Getty Images

"Move away from the TV, you're ruining your eyes!" It's a classic quote for nagging parents, right up there with "eat your vegetables" and "your face will get stuck that way." Yanking a kid back from the TV is a knee-jerk reaction for most parents -- after all, our parents did it to us, so there must have been a good reason. It does seem like all those blinking, flashing and bright colors could harm anyone's eyes at close range. And don't TVs emit X-rays? Most parents would rather be safe than sorry, so they reiterate the admonition, even though they might not be quite sure why they are saying it.

The habitual warning does have some historical basis. Once upon a time, until about the late '60s, TVs did emit a small amount of radiation. It was measurable but not harmful -- you could sit directly in front of the TV for hours a day and still not get the radiation dose of a run-of-the-mill X-ray. Still, it's understandable that parents might have felt uneasy with kids sitting close to the TV. In 1967, General Electric recalled 90,000 TVs because a factory error caused them to produce 10 to 10,000 times the usual amount of radiation [source: Hiskey]. This was no doubt a big factor in the perpetuation of the "sit back!" warning.

Today LCD and plasma TVs emit absolutely no radiation. But even though it's true that sitting too close won't irradiate your child's eyes, it can still cause eyestrain and headaches. That's why all the blinking and flashing (not to mention the noise) can be harmful at close range. Our eyes have to work especially hard when we watch TV in a dark room, so in addition to moving kids away from the screen, it's always better to have the lights on when it's TV time. It's also a good idea to sit up while watching TV -- some kids like to lie on the floor, but that angle can stress the neck and eyes and lead to headaches. Another thing to look out for: If your child regularly sits a foot from the screen, you might want to visit the eye doctor. Glasses may be an easy fix!

There's a third reason to tell your children to get away from the screen, and perhaps it's the most useful of all. Forget radiation, eyestrain and headaches: If a kid is standing with his nose practically on TV, he's blocking everyone else's view. So that's a totally legitimate reason to tell him to back off.