Don’t sit too close to the TV! I can still hear my mother shouting, over and over again. Now, however, television is the least of our worries.
Children as young as 12 months old are adept at using digital devices. Their little fingers are scrolling, pinching and expanding pages as needed. They navigate websites more easily than many adults do, but what does all this close up visual work mean when it comes to young developing eyes?
Children and devices: is it a problem?
It's a problem that makes the TV scenario look like a stroll in the park. Eyes have muscles that allow us to move them around. When we are looking at something close up, like a book or digital device, our eye muscles work to bring eyes closer together and to focus on that short distance.
The strain on the eye muscles is a little like standing with your knees bent for prolonged periods of time. How long do you think you could stand with your knees bent? Not long at all! But we push our eyes to the absolute limit without a second thought. And why? Because they don’t hurt like our legs would.
They may not hurt straight away. Over time, however, pain can settle in. But how do you avoid it?
Computers and kids' eyes
Computers have changed the way we use our eyes. Now we find ourselves spending much more time than ever before viewing things at close and intermediate distances. Twenty years ago, there was nothing to look at in the intermediate distance for any prolonged time. Think back to your school days, how many children do you remember wearing glasses? Not many. Now however, the playgrounds are filled with children wearing glasses or contact lenses.
Times have changed and more children are wearing glasses today than ever before. Short-sightedness, or Myopia, is now reaching epidemic proportions. Children, from a young age are reliant on computers to keep them entertained. It is common for young children to get together on smart phones or tablets and play games for hours, rather than go outside and play games. They do not talk to each other, laugh, or crack jokes. They just stare at their screens.
Where are they learning their communication skills? How are they learning to work together? Where are the puzzles and building blocks?
Sure, these toys create a mess, but they are SO MUCH better for the kids. And not just for their eyes, but their fine motor skills too. Children learn sharing, working together and communication skills playing these games.
What's the big deal about myopia?
A pair of glasses or contact lenses can provide clear vision if your child is short-sighted, but did you know that Myopia can lead to more serious eye health issues, including retinal detachments, cataracts and glaucoma?
Patients with a high degree of Myopia are more at risk of these eye diseases.
Blue light and digital devices
Apart from the extra strain we are putting on these young eye muscles, they are also exposed to toxic blue light, which has been shown to affect sleep rhythms in children and adults alike. The intensity of light emitted from the latest generation of digital screens is higher on new generation digital screens than older models.
Why? Because these LED (light emitting diode) screens are brighter, and crisper to look at, but also much higher in light from the blue end of the light spectrum.
What sort of damage can this cause in the eyes?
Blue light toxicity causes oxidative stress to the retina and other parts of the eye, which could lead to eye disease like cataract and macular degeneration from a younger age.
Blue blocker lenses protect young eyes from potential harm from digital devices.
At The Eye Practice, we take kids' vision very seriously. We offer a range of eyestrain and myopia control strategies (including lifestyle changes). We supply and fit blue-blocker lenses (both prescription and non-prescription) to a range of frames to protect your kids' eyes while using devices. We also discuss lifestyle factors and screen usage to minimise exposure to blue light.
Not just their eyes...
Ever stopped to think about what effect all this computer time is doing to your kids' health? Young bodies need to be moving about, stretching, running, jumping.
No one gets strong and healthy by sitting in a chair, straining their eyes, and moving just a couple of fingers across a screen. But the reality is that when the kid’s start whinging, and parents are tired, it is just so easy to hand over the phone to keep them quiet.
What can you do to protect your kids'eyes?
Just like the Slip, Slop, Slap for sun protection, The Eye Practice recommends that kids need to Reduce, Replace and Reflect when it comes to digital devices.
Reduce: or limit time allowed on computers
Time them! Keep a cute little timer with them so they can track how long they have to play. When the bell rings, it is time to move on.
Replace: devices with fun, educational games
Smart games are fantastic for keeping children engaged while they learn. Card games, origami, building blocks, are all fun games for kids, building fine motor skills, and yes I know, messy for parents. Look at it this way, they are a good opportunity to teach cleaning up!
Reflect: lenses that protect the eyes
When using digital devices, protect those bright little peepers with blue-blocking glasses. These glasses are a standard issue for adult patients who use computers regularly at work so why not protect the kids?
A good idea is to have activities in a cupboard ready to go - activities that the kids can do on their own such as:
- Colour by numbers – this can keep them busy for hours
- Dot To Dot – have plenty of sheets printed out
- String together coloured macaroni to make chains
- Lego and other building blocks
Kids will push as hard as they can to get what they want, but as their parents we need to put their well-being first. Growing up brings us all so many challenges. Who was it that once said “Life wasn’t meant to be easy”?
Let’s not make it any harder on our little ones. They will have plenty of time on computers through school and later through work. We need to educate our kids, that just like too much candy is bad for their teeth, too much time on digital devices is bad for their eyes.