Fall conjures up cooling skies, tumbling leaves, and children settling into their classes. Chances are, though, when you packed the kids off to school last month, your supply list included more than just old-fashioned notebooks and pencils.
Today’s teachers make full use of technology – including computers, digital devices, and even 3-D – to enhance learning. According to Web MD, 40 percent of teachers use computers for instruction, and there’s at least one computer in 97 percent of American classrooms. Couple that with kids’ game-playing, TV-watching, e-reading, and smart-phoning at home, and you’re talking a lot of time in front of a screen.
In fact, recent studies have shown that children ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7 ½ hours a day looking at digital images!
To adapt to all this screen saturation, our eyes are becoming increasingly stressed and strained. Parents are worried. Nearly a third say they’re concerned that computers and handheld electronics may damage their child’s eyesight. And they’re right to be concerned: a recent study showed an increase in nearsightedness in the last 30 years, up from 25 percent to a whopping 42 percent.
So what can you do to protect your kids’ vision? Here are 10 tips:
Handheld devices pack a lot of text onto a small screen, so we tend to hold them very close to our eyes in order to see. This can cause fatigue and eyestrain, according to James Sheedy, professor of optometry at Oregon’s Pacific University.
- Limit your kids to use handheld electronics only for quick tasks, such as texting, rather than reading long articles for homework assignments. For longer articles, consider printing out the information and having them read it from the paper.
- Moreover, make sure your children aren’t holding smart phones or other handheld devices too close to their faces.
The same goes for computer use. Looking at a computer for long periods of time fatigues the eyes, resulting in eyestrain, headaches, dry eyes, blurred vision, and trouble seeing faraway objects, a condition called computer vision syndrome.
- Teach your kids to rest their eyes. Taking breaks while working applies just as much to their young, still-developing eyes as it does to yours – maybe more. Every 10 minutes, tell them to look at least 10 feet away for 10 seconds. Also remind them to blink regularly to prevent dry, irritated eyes.
As well, Sheedy notes, “Very often the work space is not well designed for kids.” Putting your child at an adult-size desk defeats proper ergonomics. Even teens who are taller than their parents may need their work spaces adjusted.
- Place the computer monitor 20 to 28 inches away from your kids’ eyes. Align the top of the screen at eye level so that they look down at the screen as they work.
- Choose a comfortable, supportive chair positioned so that your children’s feet are flat on the floor. This will discourage them from sitting with their legs tucked under them to get closer to the computer screen. If your child is using a laptop, make sure that they are sitting at a desk or table while using it.
Viewing a digital display differs significantly from viewing something on paper, especially in terms of brightness, notes Education.com. The glossy surface of a computer monitor or smart phone screen can be highly reflective, and this glare is harmful to vision.
- Be sure the brightness of the digital display is the same as the background brightness of the room. The contrast of a bright screen and background darkness puts a bad strain on eyes.
- Invest in an anti-glare film, which are now available for smart phones and iPads, as well as computers.
On that note, paper reflects light, but computers generate their own light – so lighting a room where your children do both paper and digital homework can be challenging.
- To accommodate both viewing situations, use spot lighting to keep the computer viewing area separate from where your child works on paper.
Ultimately, of course, the best way to protect your children’s eyes is to help them cut back on their screen time.
- Suggest that they limit leisure screen time to two hours or less a day. This includes watching TV, playing video games, and using mobile phones. (Hey, we said it was the best way – we didn’t say it would be easy!) One way to encourage your children to spend less time in front of a screen, would be to encourage them to participate in sports at school.
- One way to do this? Simply spend more time outside.
And always take notice if your children are squinting, frowning at the screen, rubbing their eyes or have limited attention to visual tasks. These are all signs of eyestrain. If your child complains of headaches after reading, blurriness or eye fatigue, or double vision, visit your ophthalmologist.
As Terri Young, M.D., professor of ophthalmology, pediatrics, and medicine, notes, “Today’s near work forces our eyes to constantly be in tension to focus on near objects – reading papers and watching monitors. People need to go outside and look to the horizon.”
Since many jobs also require the use of computer screens your eyes may need the break just as much as your children’s do. Consider going for walks with your children as often as possible. Even just spending some time relaxing at a nearby park can be helpful. When we are outside we tend to look at things farther away from us. This allows our eyes a rest period from the close up work needed with electronic screens.
You can also help your children’s eyes by making sure that they are getting the vitamins and nutrients that their eyes need to stay healthy. The best way to do this for children is to encourage them to eat more fruits, vegetables, and salad greens. It’s never to early to start protecting their vision!