First came the television. Remember the times your parents told you to move farther from the screen so you wouldn't ruin your eyesight?
Little did they know about the things that are about to come next – desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets.
As a parent, you want your child to be the best that he or she can be, and to be safe, comfortable, and well at all times. And although you wouldn't want to deprive kids of access to their gizmos, you are worried about the potential long-term adverse side effects of these, especially to their eyesight. Or is there really a cause for concern?
According to Common Sense Media, a non-profit organization that seeks to promote safe technology and media for children, the amount of screen time for children hasn't changed dramatically. However, there has been a massive shift in the platform, from television to mobile devices.
The non-profit organization adds that kids as young as two years old spend as much as two and a half hours in front of a screen.
But is there really a cause for concern for parents?
Screen time and vision
All around the world, the cases of myopia or nearsightedness have steadily increased since the Seventies. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, this can be attributed to the significant increase in the time people spend indoors, most notably adults who work in an office, and less outdoors playtime and sport done in schools.
The organization stresses that screen time is not the only culprit for this alarming trend. It also added that reading books could adversely affect eyesight for both adults and young kids.
That, however, does not mean that your kids should have unlimited screen time.
Side effects of prolonged screen time
Prolonged screen time affects both children and adults. Here are some of these adverse side effects that you should know:
Spending a substantial amount of time working in front of the computer or playing games on a phone or tablet can lead to nearsightedness. Experts believe that spending ample time outdoors and getting enough sunlight help in the development of healthy eyes. In short, the more you and your child spend indoors in front of a screen, the more you deprive yourselves of sunlight, which is vital to eye health.
Prolonged screen time can also lead to eye fatigue, dry and irritated eyes. When you are engrossed with what's on the screen, the less likely you will be aware of how much time has passed. Plus, you and your child may not be blinking as much as you ought to.
Spending too much time in front of a screen, be it a computer monitor or smart device screen means overexposure to blue light. This can dramatically alter a person's circadian rhythm. Furthermore, if a child plays video games or watches movies on a device, it may be difficult for him/her to transition to sleep.
Other side effects
Too much screen time may also lead to other problems in our bodies. These can include headaches, and neck and shoulder pain. Excessive screen time can also lead to irritability, poor academic performance, reduction in attention span, and even poor behavior at home or at school.
A quick word on blue light
Computer monitors and gadgets emit a diverse array of light rays, most of which are harmless. However, one cause of concern parents should know about is blue light.
Compared to other light spectrums, blue light has higher energy and shorter wavelengths. Experts suggest that blue light can prove to be harmful to the retina.
Furthermore, excessive exposure to blue light alters one's circadian rhythm which interferes with a person's sleeping and waking cycle. Over the long term, this disruption can lead to a host of health concerns.
Since smart devices have not been around for a long time, scientists are still in the dark about the possible long-term effects of too much screen time. It may take a few more years, decades even before long-term effects begin to emerge.
However, it may be wise to err on the side of caution and put limits on your child's device usage and screen time now.
Limiting screen time
Indeed, smart devices have their value, apart from entertainment. Some students use their phones and tablets for research related to their homework or assignments. So how do you find a happy balance? Here are a few suggestions for parents.
Before anything else, you should set a good example. Your child will soon realize that the rules you set up are insincere if you are going to be the first to break them. Remember, children often model their behaviour from the adults around them.
Set a limit to screen time and encourage your child to adhere to that.
Create device-free zones. It can be the dinner table or the family room. But if there is one place that should be device-free at all times, that should be your kid's bedroom.
Encourage your child to spend more time outdoors and participate in outdoor sports, especially during the daytime. This will help preserve his eye health as well as provide opportunities for interactive play and Team sport.
Require regular breaks from screen use. This will help prevent eye fatigue and other vision-related issues.
Get your child's eyes examined yearly
The symptoms of eye fatigue and strain are relatively easy for parents to recognize. However, vision problems require the expertise of eye care professionals who know how to do the relevant tests.
According to the American Optometric Association, children should get their eyes checked annually as part of a comprehensive health exam. According to the AOA, children aged six and above should get their eyes checked every year so that hidden problems can be diagnosed early on.
There is a right time and place for everything, including the usage of smart devices. Although you do not have to deprive your child of the enjoyment of the devices, you should establish rules that will help avoid the side effects associated with too much screen time.
Dr Millicent M. Grim, Specialist Ophthalmologist & LASIK Specialist, is the Medical Director of Gulf Eye Center in Dubai. Since 2002, Gulf Eye Center's highly qualified ophthalmologists and optometrists/ODs have been successfully treating a wide range of eye conditions using advanced techniques. They also provide comprehensive eye care and vision restoration procedures for people of all ages.
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