We have been discussing so many aspects of implications of corona in our kids lives be it their health, diet or physical activity. A very important aspect with regards to this is the screen exposure time due to ongoing online classes. Children with no regular device use outside of school are now spending hours more on digital devices to facilitate online learning. With almost minimal outdoor activities, children are being exposed to so much of screen time than we would have normally wanted for them. And all said and done, its inevitable. We unfortunately have no option but to allow them. We might stop their additional screen watching (though not practically feasible or possible) but still 3 to 4 hours of daily classes are a norm followed by completion of assignments which again requires additional screen exposure.
Electronics are boon as well as bane for us. They are good for education and leisure and in this era we cant live without them. On the flip side they lead to problems like behavior changes, obesity, addiction, poor school performance, sleep issues and eye issues etc. But they are bound to stay. Its on us whether we make them a blessing or curse.
All parents including myself are worried about the effect of prolonged screen time on children’s eyes.
Why are screens harmful for eyes?
Because children are focusing on a near, fixed object for a long time continuously, it causes strain to the eye and blurring of vision. This can lead to eye muscle fatigue and weakness. Also most kids when engrossed in screen, don’t blink very often which leads to dryness and irritation of eyes.
So basically concentrating on a screen for long periods can cause headaches, eye pain, irritation, dryness leading to excessive rubbing and issues with concentration. This condition is also known as digital eye strain or computer vision syndrome.
The other danger is blue light exposure. This short wavelength light (400-500nm) is in the high energy spectrum and is emitted from all screen devices. Children’s eyes develop gradually, and they lack a certain filter that protects their eyes. So these can penetrate young eyes and cause retinal damage.
I don’t mean to scare you with this information so that you completely ban the use of devices. But instead the aim is to use these devices in moderation along with certain practices so that the eyes stay healthy.
What can we do protect the eyes?
As can be expected, children do not and infact cannot naturally set boundaries for themselves, so parents can help them by teaching moderation. It begins with having conversations with kids about digital eye strain and how electronic devices affect eye health (age appropriate). You can ask them to help set guidelines for device use and come up with a family plan.
By following these basic tips you don’t need to worry too much.
- Good diet – eat those veggies and fruits: Any healthy body requires healthy diet and same is true for eyes. Consume a diet rich in Vitamin A, C and E, zinc, antioxidants, essential fatty acids. For e.g. papaya, carrot, broccoli, beetroot, citrus fruits, nuts, green leafy vegetables like spinach, and eggs are good for eyes.
- Ask them to take regular breaks from screen and remind them to blink intermittently along with eye exercises. Basic eye-exercises, which involve the 20-20-20 rule, must be adhered to. Teach them to look away from the screen every 20 minutes, focus on an object at least 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. Normally the duration of online classes is longer than 20 minutes hence this rule can’t be exactly followed but in such a case, a break should be taken as soon as a session ends or whenever convenient. Ideally a child should look away from the screen for at least 10 minutes every hour.
- Reduce glare from screen: The screen should be in a well lit room. The level of illumination in a room when using a computer or other screen should be roughly half of what it would be for other activities such as writing etc. Decrease or increase the brightness of the screen to a more comfortable level for viewing rather than putting it on to full or minimum. Too low a brightness also strains the eye. Change the background color to cool gray. Consider adding a blue light filter to smartphones and tablets or antiglare glasses (after prescription) if nothing else works.
- Essential screen time only: Try to limit screen time to online classes only in a day. Its difficult especially in times of corona but engage them in any other activity which does not involve screen or spend time with them if possible. Any other additional screen time can be taken up on weekends or holidays. Try not to use “more screen time” as a reward. Keep within your agreed-upon family limit.
- Proper Screen positioning: Make sure the screen of your child’s desktop or laptop computer is slightly below eye level. Looking up at a screen opens eyes wider and dries them out quicker. Position the device screens based on the 1/2/10 rule, which means – mobile phones ideally at one foot, desktop devices and laptops at two feet, and roughly 10 feet for TV screens (depending on how big the screen is).
- Spend time outdoors: Ideally minimum of 60 mins of outdoor activity is recommended but due to corona you might not consider sending them out. But all scare apart, cycling, running or jogging alone can and should be encouraged. Or else if u have a terrace or balcony encourage them to spend some time there.
- Eye care: Frequent washing of eyes with cool water and lubricating eye drops or even the use of a room humidifier if your child continues to be bothered by dry eyes. Don’t apply things like surma, kajal, or any other product which is not medically indicated as these can harm the eyes.
- Schedule regular eye-checkups and wear glasses if prescribed.
- Good night sleep of at least 8 to 10 hours.
- Create bed time for devices: Exposure to screens be completely avoided for atleast an hour prior to going to bed. Children should not be sleeping with devices in their bedrooms.
- Be a good role model: As with any other aspect as I say, children imitate adults. If you follow a healthy screen time usage ( barring the office work) your child will surely follow the same.
How much screen time is acceptable for children and how much screen time is too much?
Unfortunately, there is no clear cut answer to this. WHO and American Academy of pediatrics have brought out certain guidelines regarding screen time in children, but all of these guidelines have gone for a toss during corona pandemic.
But still certain limits can be still be applied as an when possible.
- Toddlers: Since they have the advantage of not having any type of online classes, keep screen time to as low as possible. Try not to exceed 20-40 minutes in a day with never more than 20 minutes at a stretch.
- Preschool age groups (ages 3-5 years): 1 hour should be the limit, in 3 stretches of 20 minutes each.
- Children in the age group of 5-15 years: Screen time may be increased beyond 1 hour to as minimum as required for education but with above practices.
While the above guidelines are only indicative, in these times of pandemic, these are exceeded because of online education. So we should try to make best use of the screen time and teach our children to do the same too.
Stay home, stay healthy
Healthy kids, happy kids
Dr Garima| themoppetsclinic 🙂