As your kids spend more time on their phones these days, you may start noticing more complaints of ‘itchy’ eyes and headaches. They may be victims of digital eye strain, one of the many consequences of their unhealthy tech habits.
Eye strain is particularly tough on our children’s still-developing eyes. On top of headaches and eye irritation, it may cause other symptoms including – pain, dryness, burning, redness, sensitivity to light and a loss of the eye’s ability to focus correctly, resulting in blurred vision.
Eye strain is very common, and you may have already seen its effects in your own children – they may complain of dryness and you may have seen them incessantly rubbing their eyes, and by the time you’ve caught them in the act, their eyes have turned an alarming shade of pink.
It is very likely that those bright, flickering smart device screens that are often held for far too long and too close to our children’s delicate eyes are to blame for their suffering.
The good news is, there are simple solutions to your problems. Digital eye strain can be avoided with some simple behavioural changes. As is often the case, education is the first step. In order to know how to help your children to avoid digital eye strain, it will help you to first understand what causes digital eye strain, what it looks like, and what can be done to stop it.
Here are some of the common risk factors of eye strain and associated health symptoms and how to address them once and for all.
- Excessive screen time
If left unsupervised, our children could go hours hunched over their mobile devices, scrolling through their endless feeds without any breaks. Why exactly is this bad for their eyes?
Research shows that three hours or longer of screen time per day is linked to an increase in the likelihood of developing dry eye in children, one of the symptoms of eye strain, by more than 13 times! Reasons for this are complex but include reduced and incomplete blinking while staring at screens.
The fix: Ensure adequate face-to-screen distance when you or your child uses devices i.e. keep a comfortable distance between the face and computer screens and when using smart devices like phones or tablets. Take regular breaks between periods of screen exposure to allow your eyes to rest i.e. look out the windows at faraway objects or close your eyes for a few minutes.
2. Incorrect screen location
The next time your child uses their mobile devices, observe how they are holding them. For instance, are they lying down on their bed with their screens far too close to their eyes?
When your child positions his/her screen higher than their eye level, it results in a larger opening of their eyelids, and thus greater eye surface exposure. This increases the amount of tear evaporation and increases their susceptibility to developing dry eye and eye strain.
The fix: Adequate face-to-screen distance and proper screen positioning is key.
How close is too close? It is recommended that smart devices are held at least 30 cm away from the face. A screen location of 15-20 degrees below eye level is also recommended to reduce these problems.
How can you effectively implement these fixes?
While all these tips are extremely effective as preventative strategies against eye strain, actually integrating them in our children’s lives can be rather challenging. For this very reason, we have developed the plano application which effectively helps parents manage their children’s device use behaviour.
At the end of the day, all we want is the best for our children. Protecting them from the pitfalls of excessive device use has to begin at an early age. As I often say, it isn’t technology itself, but the relationship we develop with technology that needs to be addressed!