Among the many challenges to modern parenting, navigating technology is a big and ever-changing one. Digital eye strain and near-sightedness have increased in Americans. Here’s how to help prevent digital eye strain in kids.
As our kids get older, life gets more complicated. Harder assignments. Bigger emotions. Scarier topics. We do our best to provide a nurturing environment for them to vent and relax and just be themselves while hoping to maintain safe boundaries.
One thing that skyrockets when children start reaching their tween years is their screen use. Whether at school, with friends, or in our own homes, there are more than a healthy number of opportunities for kids to engage with technology.
Digital Eye Strain: Another Concern When it Comes to Technology
The first thing we often think about is online safety, as we should. Being aware of what our kids are clicking and watching, maintaining agreed rules for social media, and selecting a parental block setting is imperative to hope to stay abreast of the dangers screen time can bring.
Regular honest, open dialogue (no matter how difficult for both parent and child) is also a great deterrent for kids to feel they have a safe zone to discuss the virtual world they’re learning to navigate.
Studies are starting to show there are other concerns widespread technology use can bring.
The National Eye Institute reports that the frequency of myopia, also known as near-sightedness, has increased in Americans over the last few decades. Two suspected causes for this spike in myopia are an increased amount of time spent looking at things up close and a lack of outdoor activities.
Children urged to play outdoors to lower risk of shortsightedness
Several studies have found children who spend more time outdoors have a lower risk of myopia. While some report that looking into the distance could be important, others say exposure to outdoor light is key.
Think about how you feel after a marathon session of flipping between your favorite social media apps, news stories, feeds, recipes, gorgeous pics, and the like. You put your phone down and sometimes see a halo or find yourself blinking. Your neck and shoulders may feel tense (tech neck), either from the nature of the stressful news you’ve been reading or the angle at which you’ve been browsing.
Sure, it goes away, but over time it can lead to eye strain, headaches, migraines, and overall aches and pains.
If we notice these negative effects in ourselves, our children are experiencing them, too. And they may not know what’s causing it or how to deal with it.
Digital Eye Strain Effects Are Amplified in Children
Well, consider the long-term effects that this may have just for your child’s eyes if they start their extensive screen use as early as 8, 9, or 10. Over the years, the so-called “blue light” (the thing that we recognize as a device being “backlit”) that causes your eye strain is being shown to damage retinal cells. This light penetrates further into the eye than ultraviolet light, damaging the retina by exposing it to a greater spike in intensity.
While there are times that this light actually poses positive effects such as alertness, some long-term side effects may include earlier rates of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Beyond the eye, blue light has also been known to disrupt sleep patterns by suppressing the natural release of melatonin. As we all know, sleep deprivation can influence a child’s mood, affect their attentiveness during learning and other activities, and have an overall negative effect on well-being.
Additionally, children may be using computer workstations that are set up for adults, which can be uncomfortable and contribute to eye strain and tech neck symptoms.
Parents are Concerned About Excessive Screen Time
Technology is officially the everyday norm for today’s children. However, most parents and children don’t realize how to use these devices safely to protect their health.
- 65% of parents report that their children (under the age of 18) spend two or more hours on digital devices on a daily basis.
- More than three-fourths of parents (76.9%) report being somewhat or very concerned about the impact of digital devices on children’s developing eyes.
- 70% of parents who let their children use devices for three or more hours a day, or who do not set limits, report being very or somewhat concerned about the impact of digital devices on their children’s developing eyes.
- 33% of children use a digital device three or more hours a day.
How to Relieve / Prevent Digital Eye Strain
Here are some tips you can begin to ease into your child’s routine to keep their eyes (and overall health) in better shape.
1. Minimize screen time
Obviously, the best way to handle the negative side effects of digital intake would be to minimize screen time. Allowing a child’s eyes (as well as the rest of their body) to rest helps combat not only the negative physical side effects but also helps to hinder the addiction that we all know can come from too much screen time.
Just in case you need a little inspiration, here’s a list of 50 Screen Free Ideas to enjoy with your child.
2. Get outside
By providing the opposite of what most technology gives – namely, natural light and colors, soothing sounds, exciting exchanges with wildlife and weather – you’ll teach your child to recharge by seeking out the beauty beyond the screen and in the world that we take for granted around us.
For ideas to enjoy the great outdoors with your little ones, check out these options:
3. Use blue light blocking glasses
Research suggests that blue light after sunset can suppress melatonin production and disrupt circadian rhythm. One of the most important benefits of these orange-tinted glasses is to prevent damage to the DHA essential fat in your retinal pigmented epithelium. This is responsible for converting sunlight into vital DC electric current your body needs.
4. Teach them how to comfortably use technology
It’s unrealistic in today’s day and age to expect a child to avoid all technology, particularly when they are educated in a traditional setting.
Here’s how kids can avoid the pain, poor posture, and neck hump also known as tech neck.
- Sit up straight while using electronic devices. Remind them to keep their head aligned with their shoulders and avoid slouching. (Bending one’s neck at a 60-degree angle is said to put 60 pounds of pressure on the neck and back.)
- Hold device properly out in front (but not too close to their face).
- Take regular breaks from using electronic devices. Set a timer for every 20-30 minutes and remind them to stand up, stretch, and move around. This helps alleviate strain on the neck and back muscles.
- Teach your child simple neck exercises that can help strengthen the muscles and reduce the risk of tech neck. For example, they can gently tilt their head forward and backward, side to side, and rotate their neck in both directions.
- If they use a computer, ensure their desk is properly set up to promote good posture. The chair should be at a height that allows their feet to rest flat on the floor, and the computer or device screen should be at eye level. Consider using an adjustable desk or chair.
5. Don’t allow technology use after 8 pm
In order to allow the body to start winding down and get the proper night’s sleep, be sure to implement a screens-off time every night. The best way to know that your child will stick to this? Don’t keep devices in their bedrooms.
Create a single docking / charging station in a common area of your house. And if you’ve fallen into the habit of using cell phones as alarm clocks, go back to a traditional clock for each bedroom instead.
6. Set screen time limits and stick to them
It may be an uphill battle, but use the parental control settings on your child’s phone and devices. You can also set a physical timer as a reminder to yourself that it’s time they move on to another activity.
Have a list or even kit of alternative activities to offer. You have to put in the effort here until they get used to entertaining themselves again.
Don’t offer mundane things like chores or homework (although there should be a scheduled time for those). Or try some of the steps mom, Whitney Fleming took when she realized she had a children and technology addiction situation in her home.
7. Model proper behavior
Okay, parents. How do we expect our kids to have a healthy relationship with technology if we sit on the couch holding our laptop, listening to a podcast on our phone, and watching TV?
Ouch! But it’s true. We need to start cutting back on device usage ourselves. We need to be more present and find our own alternatives to our screen use. We need to engage more with our children. And we absolutely need to spend more time outside.
While many of these tips may be unpopular with your child at first (especially since every family has different technology rules and friends may have lax rules), remind yourself that it’s in your child’s best interest. And when we simplify our child’s world, we make room for them to find out and express who they truly are.