How many hours a day do you stare at a screen? Four? Six? According to CNN, the average American spends about ten and a half hours looking at a screen each day.
This number may seem alarming at first, but it adds up easily. Each day we sit at a computer several hours for work and kids are increasingly doing the same at school. Throughout the day, we’re catching up with friends on social media sites or reading articles online. And to unwind, we watch sitcoms or stream movies on our TVs and laptops, play video games on our phones and read books on tablets.
While there are certainly benefits to these devices, there are also drawbacks that manifest as issues with our physical health. Much of the damage being done is to our eyes. Adults who sit at a computer for work all day know the pain of tension headaches or eye strain and it’s easy to feel how even several minutes perusing pages on a smartphone can lead to dry eyes and neck pain. While today’s parents all grew up in an era when televisions were present and computer use was emerging, kids today have never known a world without multiple screens, including TVs, computers, tablets and smartphones.
Unfortunately, just as they may not recognize when they’re tired, children may be unaware of the problems caused by too much screen time – they may even ignore these issues. While adults might be quick to associate these symptoms with too much time at the computer, kids who grew up with easy access to devices may not identify these damaging effects as easily.
For people of any age, prolonged exposure to screens can lead to:
- Loss of focus
- Blurred or double vision
- Neck pain
- Tired, itchy, and/or burning eyes
Computer Vision Syndrome – Digital Eye Strain
The combination of these symptoms is defined as Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), or Digital Eye Strain. The American Optometric Association (AOA) defines CVS as a group of eye and vision-related issues that result from prolonged cell phone, tablet and computer use.
It’s important for people of all ages to note that CVS is specific to digital screen time – as opposed to something like reading books – because of the inherent factors in using digital devices. With our gadgets there is a wide variety of definition in the characters we view on screen and there may not be much contrast between characters and the screen background. On the printed page these characters are more sharply defined, which is easier on the eyes. Glare from devices also make our eyes work harder, as do the reflections of light sources outside of our devices. Also, make note of how close to your eyes you hold your smartphone versus a book, as well as the angle at which you’re viewing either. These differences can create a much greater challenge in focus and movement for your eyes.
In addition the screens themselves there are other factors that impact kids’ eye health and vision when they use technology. According to the AOA, parents should also consider these potential influences:
- Kids may not know they have vision problems. Because they are so adaptable, kids may assume that everyone else sees as they do. This could greatly multiply issues caused by high screen time.
- Computer stations in homes (and sometimes schools) are designed for adult use. This can lead to difficulties for children. For example, the optimal computer viewing angle for an adult of average height will differ greatly from the optimal angle for a child of shorter height, which could increase eye or neck strain. Similarly, if a child cannot rest his or her feet comfortably on the floor or reach the keyboard easily, this could lead to neck, back, and/or shoulder pain.
- Like adults, kids can become engrossed in their onscreen tasks, whether it’s video games or homework. Without proper breaks, this could lead to eye strain and focusing problems.
In addition to Computer Vision Syndrome, prolonged screen time can produce other negative effects. Fortunately, most of these can be avoided or at least minimized. In our next blog, we will explore these potential issues as well as ways to help kids – and ourselves – maintain healthy eyes and vision.