Most of us remember being told not to sit too close to the TV because it would ruin our vision. Well, that may have been an exaggeration of the actual dangers of sitting too near a tube television, but new risks are at play when it comes to electronic screens and the eyes of our children.
Old tube televisions and things like handheld games relied on much different electronics and lights to power their screens in the early years. It wasn’t until much more recently that we have moved to bright, LED and plasma screens that use a lot of blue light to show unimaginably crisp images. Whereas sitting pretty close to one of those screens twenty years ago probably wasn’t a good idea, it’s likely that prolonged and extreme use of screens nowadays is more problematic.
We know that using a computer can improve school readiness and academic achievement. Children learn digital tools quickly, and have relatively little trouble using them for educational games, math, reading, and more. These things aid cognitive development when used appropriately, and will not harm your child’s vision.
The risks associated with using a digital screen come from prolonged use, improper ergonomics, and developmental problems caused by getting too much screen time instead of getting social interaction and physical activity.
Children’s eyes are more sensitive to bright light because they lack certain tints that we develop as we get older. As we age, our eyes take on a slightly yellowish tint that helps filter bright blue light. The sun is the largest source of bright blue light, but digital devices also rely on this kind of light to produce clear videos and graphics. This means that children who use a bright screen up close are naturally less protected than older people, and their eyes are more susceptible to damage. Over time, our risk for macular degeneration increases along with years of exposure to “high-energy visible light.”
When children use a digital device for long periods of time, they do not “flex” their eyes by focusing on distant objects, as well as looking in the near and intermediate fields. This causes eye strain. Additionally, sitting for too long and making repetitive movements with hands (like clicking a mouse or controller) or sitting in a position with bad posture or an unsupported upper body can lead to problems like carpal tunnel, muscle soreness, and poor physical development. Everyone knows that kids need time to burn off energy, build gross motor skills, and strengthen their muscles and bones through exercise and play. When they get too much time sitting down while indoors, other important activities like outdoor play, conversation, spatial reasoning, and other skills suffer.
To reduce your child’s risk of computer vision syndrome:
- Limit their time on computers and devices
- Prompt them to take breaks regularly (this is a good habit for many activities)
- Make sure they are sitting in a comfortable, supported position
- Opt for anti-glare protection on their eyewear to reduce eyestrain
- Teach them to view digital screens at arm’s length and not too close