We all want our kids to be tech-savvy, but there are risks that come with all that digital screen time: headaches, backaches, blurry vision and poor concentration. These symptoms can affect our children’s learning and productivity, but there are ways to prevent digital eye strain, commonly called computer vision syndrome (CVS).
Kids are wired starting at a young age
With PCs, hand-held video games, smartphones and e-readers at their disposal, kids are spending an exorbitant amount of time in front of digital screens. A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 7.5 hours a day or more of electronic media time is common among kids eight to 18, up one hour and 17 minutes from five years ago. Because they spend so much of that time “media multitasking” – using more than one medium at a time – they actually pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7.5 hours!
Children suffering digital eye strain
VSP Vision Care optometrists report that nearly one-third of their patients suffer from CVS symptoms. The company has launched a webseries to help prevent CVS, including this video:
While digital eye strain is commonly regarded as an adult condition, children are suffering from the side effects of overuse, says Dr. Leanne Liddicoat, a VSP optometrist. “With children spending upwards of 1.5 hours texting day, it’s no wonder their eyes are causing them pain.”
Tips for children’s eye health
Easy steps parents and children can take to prevent digital eye strain.
Get regular eye exams
It’s important that a child has the best vision possible when using digital devices. This starts with an examination by an eye doctor, not just a school screening. Children should have their first eye exam at six months, again at three years, before starting kindergarten and every year after that.
Follow the 20/20/20 rule
To avoid fatigue and digital eye strain symptoms, eye doctors recommend the “20/20/20 rule.” Every 20 minutes, stop and look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
Ensure proper lighting
Poor lighting often causes eye strain. Ease strain by keeping bright lights overhead to a minimum and position a desk lamp to shine on your desk, not at you. Position the computer screen in a way that reduces reflections and glare from windows or overhead lights.
Limit electronic device use
Set time limits on the amount of screen time. Children under two years should have no screen time, and older children should have less than two hours per day. Be aware of how long children are using digital devices and look for digital eye strain symptoms such as squinting, rubbing of the eyes and complaints of back, neck or head pain.
Keep a working distance
The closer the eyes are to the object they’re looking at, the harder the eyes have to work. A good rule is to apply the Harmon Distance (the distance between the elbow and first knuckle) as a guide. If a child is holding video games and digital devices closer than their Harmon Distance, let their eye doctor know.
Not only does outdoor play feel good, but research shows that it helps prevent the development of nearsightedness. Just remember to use sunglasses and sunscreen.