Impact of Digital Devices on Children
Nikhil V. Nasta
Digital devices are an easy and often welcome way for parents to distract their children, but it’s important for adults to limit overexposure of children to these devices. Although limiting screen time is the best way to reduce or prevent digital eye strain, parents can follow tips mentioned in this article to help their children develop good habits while using digital devices.
Digital eye strain is the physical discomfort felt after two or more hours in front of a digital screen–be it desktop/laptop computers, tablets, e-readers or cell phones–at close to mid-range distance.
On an average, a person going through his or her daily routine will blink about 18 times per minute. However, spending significant amounts of time staring at a screen causes blink rates to reduce, resulting in dry, itchy or burning eyes.
How Do Digital Devices Impact Children?
Today’s children have access to technology at their fingertips. It seems as if kids learn how to use a smart phone or tablet before they learn how to walk. Whether it’s playing the latest game or doing homework, technology permeates a child’s life in multiple ways and is influencing them at much younger ages. Since this is a new phenomenon, not much is known about the long-term impact of computers or other digital gadgets on pediatric eyes. Increasing near-range activities such as the use of digital devices, and decreasing exposure to natural light through outdoor activities contribute to digital eye strain. Computers and smart phones are often tied to every facet of a young person’s life and there is little respite from the constant use of technology – from schooling to socializing.
To ensure children’s eyes develop normally, parents should ensure their child receives comprehensive annual eye exams. An eye care provider can evaluate any symptoms or physical discomfort stemming from use of digital devices, and may suggest tools and tips to help children protect their eyes.
One in four children uses digital devices for more than three hours a day. Digital devices are an easy and often welcome way for parents to distract their children, but it’s important for adults to limit overexposure. Although limiting screen time is the best way to reduce or prevent digital eye strain, parents can also follow these tips to help their children develop good habits while using digital devices:
- Consider investing in computer eyewear for your child to prevent digital eye strain and to block blue light exposure.
- Encourage children to take small breaks when using digital devices as explained in the 20-20-20 Rule.
- Make sure children do not use devices with screens too close to their eyes especially for long periods of time.
- If a child is doing schoolwork on a computer, set up the workspace properly. This includes having a chair that encourages correct posture with both feet flat on the floor.
Practical Tips to Reduce Eyestrain
20-20-20 Rule: This is the most important tip to implement, for both children and adults. Children’s eyes can easily tire when they have to focus on a screen. To reduce eye fatigue it is important that children take frequent breaks away from screen. Encourage the child to take (at least) a 20-second break away from the computer every 20 minutes and look at something at least 20 feet (approximately 6 metres) away. Encouraging the child to focus on something in the distance will minimize the development of eye-focus problems and eye irritation.
Off-screen Time: It is essential that children engage in plenty of screen-free time. This will ensure that the eyes do not become too tired, or overexposed to lighting for prolonged periods of time. It will also give the eyes the opportunity to look at things at a distance (which we do not do when staring at a screen).
Consider the Lighting Needs: When children use a digital screen the brightness should be comparable to the environment in which it is being used. The glare also needs to be minimised, so blinds and window coverings should be closed. Children should be discouraged from using devices directly under bright lights or when there are competing external lights.
Consider Screen Ergonomics: We want children to position devices so that they are not staring upward at light sources as this can place an additional strain on the eyes (as well as neck).
Minimise Screen-Time: Children need lots of screen-free time to ensure that screen use is not denying them their normal physical experiences that ensure healthy eye development. Parents and educators need to closely monitor how much time children are spending with screens to ensure that it is not excessive.