As a parent, I struggle with how much computer/lap top/iPad/video games to allow for my children. Though this is a multifactorial question which includes many considerations, I can comment on the effects of digital devices and how it relates to one’s eyes.
Many parents ask if a tablet or computer is bad for their children’s eyes. The answer to that is simply: everything is okay in moderation. Here are some negative effects that too much screen time can cause:
Ergonomics and Eyestrain:
Most children will hold a tablet or lap top at a close distance or if using a desktop, will sit very close to the screen. Children, unlike adults, have quite strong focusing ability and by viewing the screen at a closer distance, will enjoy a “larger image”. Over a prolonged period of time this can cause ergonomic issues as well as strain on the visual system.
In the past we believed that it was genetically pre-determined whether one would be near-sighted or far-sighted. That view is changing as there is increasing evidence to suggest that environmental factors have an important influence on the development and progression of near-sightedness (myopia).
Studies have identified several important factors contributing to myopia — including evidence that children who spend less time outdoors are at higher risk of being near-sighted. A different study demonstrated that during an academic year there was an increased risk of myopia with extended close vision exposure.
A common side-effect of prolonged computer use is “red eyes”. It is not uncommon for us to “stare” while we use our computers. In fact, our normal blink rate is greatly reduced when using a computer. With reduced blink rate, the cornea becomes dry and red. Optometrists may recommend specific artificial tears to help with dry eyes but routine breaks from viewing the computer will also help reduce red, dry eyes.
What can you do to reduce the visual effects of screen time :
- Keep proper posture – have your child sit at a table while doing any computer work. Have the computer 15 degrees below eye level, shoulders back, feet at 90 degrees to the floor.
- Follow the 20/20 rule – every 20 minutes have your child take a break from the computer. Have your child view an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This helps give the eye muscles that we use to focus at near objects (accommodation system) a break.
- Encourage your child to hold or sit so there is sufficient distance between your child and the screen. Evidence suggests there may be vision problems with high exposure to the close focus required with hand-held/phone/tablet e-game play, and to a slightly lesser extent laptop and desktop computer use
It is important to catch any potential vision problems as early as possible, be sure to have your child’s eyes checked regularly by an optometrist. Overdue for a visit to the eye doctor? Contact us for an appointment and we would be happy to discuss your concerns and answer any questions you may have!