By Hemanth Manay
Studies have shown that too much screen time and excessive near vision work (like reading) can affect a child’s sight. Like adults, children are also impacted by dry eyes and screen fatigue caused by prolonged usage of devices. There’s a theory that also suggests that one of the reasons for the increase in the number of individuals who suffer from myopia (expected to be an alarming 50 per cent of the world’s population by 2050), is the excessive use of digital devices and prolonged reading hours. However, experts have not been able to come to a conclusion on this. Another study by the American Academy of Paediatrics recommends keeping all screens off around babies and toddlers younger than 18 months. They also say little screen time for children over two years of age and limited to one hour per day should be okay.
During this pandemic, parents may find it challenging to keep their children occupied all the time as such succumbing to giving their children additional screen time. Moreover, with most parents working from home the attempt to juggle multiple tasks becomes all the more difficult, given the number of distractions around. Unfortunately, the solution cannot be to encourage outdoor activities for children during the pandemic, thus trying to keep them occupied while indoors becomes necessary. As such, our recommendation is to not take away the screen time or reading time but to reduce the child’s consumption of it and do the following things:
* The simplest thing to do is to remind them, every now and then to blink when watching the screen or reading.
* Set a timer or find a way to distract your child every 30 minutes to remove your child’s focus from the screen. Only when they look away from a prolonged fixed distance do their eyes relax and blink rate returns.
* Instead of only reading on a tablet or phone, encourage them to read real books and engage them with good old indoor board games.
* Place the digital media at least 18 to 24 inches away from your child. Encourage them to hold it at this distance when watching the screen in an appropriately illuminated space.
* Maintaining good posture when using the computer or reading is important; the screen should be placed at eye level. Adjust the monitor settings so that the brightness of light from the devices matches that of the surrounding and check for glare on the screen.
A study conducted by Brain & Cognitive Sciences Professor- Daphne Bavelier from the University of Rochester states that gaming improves other visual skills, such as the ability to track several objects at the same time and paying attention to a series of fast-moving events. It also states that the ability to see contrast of the individual increases significantly, by 58 per cent for those who play action video games. So, if you must allow screen time then some good, regulated action games for entertainment would be a wise option.
Apart from this, given the circumstances, this would be the best time for parents to notice any unusual habits that children follow during screen time. Are they sitting too close to the TV, squinting or tilting their head when trying to focus, closing one eye when trying to read or watch something, frequently rubbing their eyes or complaining of headaches and tired eyes? While headaches and tired eyes could be caused by excessive screen time or ‘computer vision syndrome’, if it persists even after, then an eye check-up would be recommended post the lockdown. All these habits are indicative of myopia, astigmatism or hyperopia in the child and there is no reason to be alarmed of such but necessary to get the child’s eyes tested once things settle. It is important to have the child’s eyes dilated by the practitioner at the time of examination.
Blurred vision can impact the child’s studies and performance at school or in sports too. The child may not recognise it as attributed to vision problems, so the best way to score this off is to get your child’s eyes tested at least once every year or when noticeable habits like these develop.
(The author is CEO and chief consultant optometrist, SR Gopal Rao Opticians & Optometrists)
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