Seldom do we go a day without using a digital screen. Be it being at work on a computer all day, or reading off a tablet, or tending to your smartphone apps, these screens can be harmful to our eyes. This is especially true for children’s eyes.
Kids are being exposed to digital screens at younger ages without knowing the dangers of spending too much time in front of one. Taking a digital break is important in more ways than one.
A recent survey found that 48 percent of children are currently spending more than six hours a day on screens. Add that to the average three and a half hours a day of homework children under 18 years old have during the school year, and that’s nine hours a day of screen time (assuming homework is done on a computer or tablet). This issue becomes concerning when you understand how damaging screens can be to young eyes.
Young eyes are of course still developing, so you don’t need to be a doctor to figure that 10 hours in front of a screen can be damaging. Generally, kids don’t exercise the same self-control as adults when it comes to playing video games or staring at their phones. Kids don’t know their limits, but parents should.
The Dangers of the Digital Age
Before the digital age truly bloomed, Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or Digital Eye Strain most commonly affected office workers in their mid-30s who spend eight hour days in front of a computer screen. However this eye syndrome is no longer exclusive to office workers.
NPR recently found that 53 percent of children ages 11 and up now own their own smartphone. Additionally, nearly 90 percent of children ages 13-17 report that they use social media. These two statistics add up to a lot of screen time.
Computer Vision Syndrome in Children
Some symptoms of CVS are: headaches, blurred vision, neck and shoulder pain, eye strain, and dry eyes. If your child exhibits two or more of these symptoms, a trip to your eye doctor may be needed.
Treating CVS varies from person to person. One treatment is to get prescription glasses specifically for computer or other screens. This relieves the eye strain that comes with being focused on a screen for long periods of time.
Another treatment is changing the way your child looks at their screens. For example, changing the angle of the screen and getting a glare filter can drastically change the amount of strain on their eyes. This treatment is often used for more mild cases of CVS and computer-related vision problems.
Dos and Don’ts
Like anything, there are good ways and bad ways to approach teaching your kids about taking a digital break. The idea isn’t to make them quit cold turkey, it’s to teach them how to responsibly use screens without harming their eyes.
A big DON’T is to scold them for spending too much time on their tablet or phone or playing video games. We live in a digital age, whether our eyes like it or not. It’s important for your kids to grow up with a good relationship to technology without abusing it. That’s why moderation is key.
There are a lot more dos than don’ts. This is first one is DO take a break. If they don’t actually get up and walk around, at least have them stop to look out the window or at something still that won’t strain the eye. Our 10-10-10 Rule is a great eye exercise for anyone who spends long periods of time in front of a digital device. It allows your child’s eyes to readjust and refocus, reducing the strain.
Another DO is to set boundaries. Let’s say you allow your child four hours of screen time a day; it is up to them to split that time between phone use, computer use for entertainment and homework, video games, TV, etc. This gives them some freedom and responsibility when it comes to using technology, but it also teaches them to be picky about what they use.
You can also set boundaries for your children as to when technology is off limits. For example, maybe no phones are allowed during meal times, or two hours a day are set aside for outdoor activities where technology is not permitted. Also consider reducing the amount of screen time they get before bed. Because blue light emitted from the screen can interrupt circadian rhythm cycles, it’s important to limit screen time for a good night’s rest.
Be the Example: Take a Digital Break
One last DO is to set a good example for your children. Don’t just tell them what to do, show them. By exercising your own self-control over technology use, you’ll be leading the way for your kids and improving your own eye health. Use time off from school to cultivate non-screen related hobbies with your kids.
Screens aren’t the bad guys here. Our unwillingness to let go of them is. By re-evaluating your own personal technology use and your families, you’re on your way to having healthier and happier eyes as well as quality of life. Don’t be stuck in front of a computer all day. Get up for a walk, or pick up your favorite book.
This post originally appeared on Rebuild Your Vision.