Encouraging Healthy Technology Habits for Our Children
Perhaps you have experienced this in your practice:
Mary arrives for her eye exam with her one-year-old son Sam in tow.
Sam utters a blood curdling scream just as we are getting started.
Mary bolts out of the exam chair and offers Sam her iPhone.
Sam immediately quiets right down and back to the exam we go without another peep.
Amazing! What happened to the baby rattle and the squeaky toy?
There is no doubt about it; kids are starting with technology at younger and younger ages. In fact, children often spend more time in front of a computer or other device than adults do—approaching 25 hours per week as reported in a 2010 American Journal of Epidemiology study.
So, what difference does it make? Isn’t it a good thing that our kids are using technology at an early age? Or is it possible that problems might result from so much time being spent on these devices?
The answer, of course, is yes. Problems can and do occur. Optometry has a golden opportunity to address these problems and to offer assistance in establishing healthy technology guidelines.
Let’s review a few basics.
First, vision is learned, it doesn’t just happen. A child’s brain learns to use the eyes to see just as we learn to use our hands to grasp and hold. When the visual system is stressed, the result can be both physical discomfort and performance problems.
With the advent of technology, we are increasingly living in a near point world and problems associated with close work are on the rise. In addition, the longer a vision problem is present, the more likely unwanted compensations may occur.
Next, this leads us to a discussion of computer vision syndrome (CVS). CVS is not one specific eye problem, but, instead, describes a range of problems experienced by people (kids) who spend extended, uninterrupted periods of time on a computer. The symptom list is long and includes:
- blurred vision,
- focusing problems,
- neck/ back ache.
We know the body performs best when it changes positions and movements rather than performing repetitive actions. Unfortunately, technology allows varied visual input with just the click of the mouse without changing visual focus—and hence, the potential for visual stress and strain.
Optometrists are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat patients with computer vision syndrome. We can also make a difference by offering recommendations and guidelines for healthy computer usage. I believe that parents will look to us for guidance and direction regarding healthy technology habits for both themselves and their children if we are sure to address the issue in the exam room.
Consider the following list of recommended healthy technology habits for children:
- Make sure they are square to the computer screen, this improves clarity and reduces glare.
- Be sure that they maintain good posture and establish a comfortable working distance.
- Build in break times. The 20/20 plan works great: 20 minutes on the device followed by 20 minutes doing something else.
- Encourage your child to get up, move around, and look away during the break.
- We don’t want couch potatoes, so be sure they alternate computer usage with some sort of physical activity.
- Have your child’s eyes examined regularly to assess both physical and performance issues which might be related to computer usage.
As I See It, children will continue to spend more and more time on computers and other devices. We have an excellent opportunity to not only treat problems as they occur but to offer advice and counsel in the area of prevention. Optometrists are uniquely positioned to encourage healthy technology habits which can minimize computer-related vision problems and maximize performance.
If you're already talking to patients about technology, share your tips with other VSP Network providers here or on Facebook.
Want to learn more about the science behind blue light to help explain it to your patients? Join Bill Nye at Vision Expo West as he simplifies the science behind the lens technology at the VSP Global booth #22087, or visit vspopticsgroup.com/unity for more information.