Adults remember a time before we all relied on digital devices. We take appropriate breaks from our computers, smartphones and tablets when needed because we recognize the negative effects (like headaches, eye strain, and blurred vision) of too much screen time. For many kids, using these devices for education, entertainment and talking with friends is so second nature that they may not associate physical discomfort with spending several minutes to a few hours on these devices.
Though we may tend to assume that teens and adults are the only ones physically affected by increased screen usage because of our reliance on computers and smartphones, it’s important to note that kids may be impacted by high screen time even more severely, as eyes can change rapidly and often during childhood.
Childhood Myopia (Nearsightedness) Has Doubled
Along with the symptoms associated with Computer Vision Syndrome (or CVS) discussed in our previous blog, recent studies show that childhood myopia (or nearsightedness) among American children has more than doubled in the past 50 years – and increased screen time may be part of the problem. While the most common cause of myopia is heredity, it is believed that overexposure to digital screens is contributing to the problem’s growth because of the stress it puts on our eyes.
Another potential long-term problem of high amounts of screen time for kids’ eyes is risk of overexposure to blue light. All digital screens emit substantial amounts of blue light (also called “high-energy visible” or “HEV” light), which could increase the risk for developing macular degeneration later in life. Although HEV light is natural and some types are important (the sun is the biggest source), the increased exposure from screens, along with how close kids tend to hold devices to their eyes, has many eye care providers concerned about potential long-term damage.
How to Protect Against Vision and other Physical Issues Caused by High Levels of Screen Time
This all may sound alarming, but we’re not suggesting you recycle all of your devices – they have their benefits, too! As far as kids are concerned, research suggests that computer use improves school readiness and future academic achievement in preschool children, and it’s clear that web searches are a blessing for students and helpful parents! Still, there are many things we can do to help kids (and adults) protect against vision and other physical issues caused by high levels of screen time.
Take frequent screen breaks. A common way to do this is with the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break and look at something 20 feet away.
Set yourself, and your kids, up right. It’s also important to make sure a computer workstation is set up specifically for its user: a chair should allow its user to be as close to the mouse and keyboard as possible to avoid reaching, and feet should be flat on the floor (or on a raised surface, if necessary). The top of a computer screen should be at or just below eye level, and the screen should be approximately 24 -28 inches away from the eyes.
Adjust accordingly. Room lighting should also be adjusted so there is no glare on the screen and so the rest of the lighting is at the same level as that of the screen.
Listen to your mother. Finally, don’t be a slouch! Slouching increases susceptibility for back and neck pain, as well as headaches, by increasing pressure on our bodies.
Children should also have annual comprehensive eye exams, as eyes develop throughout childhood. To schedule an eye exam for yourself or your child, contact us today.