Fall conjures up cooling skies, tumbling leaves, and children settling into their classes. Chances are, though, when you sent the kids off to school last month, your supplies list included more than just old-fashioned notebooks and pencils. Did your list include the necessities to keep your kids’ vision safe in today’s digital classroom?
Today’s teachers make full use of technology – including computers and digital devices – to enhance learning. Nearly 95 percent of teachers use some form of technology in the classroom, according to The Journal. Sixty percent use video streaming services, 25 percent use digital creation tools, and 13 percent use social media as a teaching tool. 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 devices!
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: the American Optometric Association recently reported that nearsightedness is increasing at an alarming rate. In the last 30 years, it has increased by 25 percent.
How Can I Protect My Child’s Vision?
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. Here are 10 tips to protect your kids’ vision when it comes to devices:
1. Limit your children’s use of handheld electronics to only quick tasks.
Push 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.
2. Make sure your children aren’t holding smartphones 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. This condition is called computer vision syndrome.
3. 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. 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 workspace is not well designed for kids.” Putting your child at an adult-sized desk defeats proper ergonomics. Even teens who are taller than their parents may need their workspaces adjusted.
4. Place the computer monitor 20 to 28 inches away from your kid’s eyes.
Align the top of the screen at eye level so that they look down at the screen as they work.
5. Choose a comfortable, supportive chair positioned so that your child’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 VOA Learning English. The glossy surface of a computer monitor or smartphone screen can be highly reflective, and this glare is harmful to vision.
6. 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 strain on eyes.
7. Invest in an anti-glare film.
They are now available for smartphones 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 can do both paper and digital homework can be challenging.
8. Use spotlighting to keep the computer viewing area separate from where your child works on paper.
This will help accommodate both viewing situations. Ultimately, of course, the best way to protect your children’s eyes is to help them cut back on their screen time.
9. 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.
10. Another way to do this is to simply spend more time outside.
Always take notice if your children are squinting, frowning at the screen, rubbing their eyes, or have limited attention for visual tasks. These are all signs of eyestrain. If your child complains of headaches after reading, blurriness, 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 child’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 we do 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 too early to start protecting their vision!