As the amount that most people spend on screen time increases, the incidence of eyestrain due to computer use is also increasing. Statistics researched by professionals of optometry in Winnipeg, indicate that as many as 90% of all children in the US have access to and use a computer during their daily activities, both at home and while at school. This begs the question: what are the side effects of screen time on children?
Another issues is the fact that children are using computers earlier in life than ever before. When college students were surveyed, more than 20% of them indicated that they used a computer regularly before the age of 9. In fact, digital use by children has become so commonplace that, according to the Vision Council, as many as one in four youngsters spend up to three hours a day engaging in screen time.
Is there a connection between nearsightedness and digital use?
So how does staring at a computer or digital screen affect the health of a child’s vision – or does it at all? Opinions are mixed, but there is some research that shows that using computers and digital screens in childhood puts children at a higher risk for myopia (nearsightedness). As many as 25% of people in the US are affected by myopia, and as many as 50% of all adults that have a college degree, have some degree of myopia. The reason for the disparity between those who attend college and the general population might be the increased computer time early on in development, and how it affects a child’s developing eyesight.
How computers can alter the health of a child’s developing vision
Sitting in front of a computer forces a child’s eyes to spend a long time straining the eye mechanism that is used for focusing, more so than other tasks that are performed during childhood. For the developing eye, that can cause a lot more damage than when adults spend long times staring at a computer screen. Computers put a greater amount of stress on the eye than reading because it is harder to focus on computer-generated images than printed ones.
There is also concern that long-term exposure to blue light, which comes from digital devices, can penetrate the eye more deeply than ultraviolet light and can damage a child’s retina over time. Children might experience greater problems with computer eye strain because:
- They don’t have the same self-awareness as adults. They often spend more time on the computer than adults, which can put way more strain on their eyes.
- Children often don’t notice changes in their vision or when their visual acuity is getting worse.
- Because of the way that computers are designed, children often have to sit closer to the computer just out of sheer mechanics.
So how do you prevent children from having vision problems?
To make sure that your child doesn’t experience the progression of myopia due to extended computer use, you should:
- Have a comprehensive eye exam early on, especially before they begin school. To make sure to check visual acuity make sure that the exam includes an assessment of their reading and computer visual skills.
- Make sure that your child’s computer workstation puts them at a farther distance than they typically would be. The monitor should be anywhere from 18 to 28 inches away from your child to make sure that they aren’t excessively straining their focal mechanism. It is also important for the screen to be below the level of your child’s eyes. Accommodate for their height by adjusting their workstation at home and at school to minimize any excessive strain.
- Look for signs that your child is experiencing eye strain, such as red and swollen eyes, frequently rubbing their eyes, or turning their head at a particular angle when viewing the computer. If they complain of fatigue or blurriness, then that is something that you should definitely not ignore.
Children are being introduced to computers and digital devices at a much younger age and for much longer periods of time than ever before. To limit the influence of screen time on your child’s visual development, make sure to look for signs of trouble, and limit the amount of time that they sit in front of the computer to reduce the risk of myopia.