Kids, Computers and Computer Vision
Kids and computers are nearly inseparable these days. With many school-age kids and even preschoolers spending hours in front of a computer every day, it's worth considering what effects computers might have on your children's eyes and their vision.
- Is computer use bad for a child's eyes?
- Does it help or hurt school performance?
- Should kids wear computer glasses at school?
These and other questions about kids, computers and computer vision are common. This article will help you learn more about these timely topics.
Computer Use Improves School Readiness
Here's good news: Recent research suggests computer use among preschool children may actually improve their readiness for school and academic achievement.
In one study of 122 preschoolers enrolled in a rural Head Start program*, children in the experimental group were given the opportunity to work on a computer for 15-20 minutes per day with their choice of developmentally appropriate educational software, while the kids in the control (non-computer) group received a standard Head Start curriculum.
All children in the study took four standardized tests at the beginning of the study and six months later to assess their school readiness, visual motor skills, gross motor skills and cognitive development.
The children who worked on a computer performed better on measures of school readiness and cognitive development than the children without computers. Also, kids who did computer work both at home and at school performed better than kids who worked at a computer only at school.
Computer Risks for Children
But too much of anything can be a problem. Like adults, children who spend many hours in front of a computer have a greater risk of developing computer ergonomics problems and computer vision syndrome. Computer ergonomics is the study of people's efficiency at their computer work stations. Problems with computer ergonomics are closely associated with computer vision syndrome, which can affect children as well as adults.
Too much unsupervised computer work may cause vision problems for kids.
Another potential problem of too much screen time (from computers, e-readers, video games and smart phones) for children's eyes is overexposure to harmful blue light. All digital devices with viewing screens emit significant amounts of blue light (also called "high-energy visible light" or "HEV light") which might increase a child's risk of macular degeneration later in life.
Though the sun emits significantly more HEV light than computers and other digital devices, the added exposure to blue light kids receive from these devices and how close these electronic screens are to a child's eyes for hours each day have many eye care providers worried about potential eye damage over time.
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For these reasons, it's a good idea to set guidelines for your children when it comes to the amount of time they spend in front of a computer.
How to Reduce Your Child's Risk of Computer-Related Vision Problems
To reduce your youngster's risk of childhood computer vision syndrome and computer ergonomics problems, make sure he or she is seated comfortably and has a "neutral" posture when working at the computer. Characteristics of this posture include:
- Head is balanced on neck, not tilted back or forward. Computer screen should be positioned approximately 15 degrees below eye level.
- Back is straight and shoulders back but relaxed. Avoid slumping forward over the keyboard.
- Upper arms are close to the body and relaxed, not angled away from his sides or tilted forward.
- Forearms are flat on the desk, with the elbows forming at least a 90-degree angle.
- Hands are nearly level with forearm, with little wrist bend.
- Feet are flat on the floor or a footrest, with knees forming at least a 90-degree angle. (The angle behind the knee should be open; don't tuck legs under the chair.)
Many experts also recommend getting away from the computer every 20 to 30 minutes to stand and stretch. This helps relieve muscle tension that can contribute to computer vision problems and computer ergonomics problems.
Reducing the Risks of Blue Light Exposure
Computers and other digital devices aren't going away, and it's unlikely your child will use his or her electronic devices less in the future. If your child already is wearing prescription eyeglasses, the best way to reduce exposure to blue light when using electronic devices is to purchase eyeglass lenses that are specially treated to block harmful HEV rays.
A number of eyewear companies are now offering these blue-blocking eyeglass lenses, which have only a minimal tint and can be worn full time for all activities. Examples include Crizal Prevencia No-Glare lenses (Essilor) and BluTech lenses (Signet Armorlite).
Protection from blue light also is available by purchasing eyeglass lenses for your child that include an anti-reflective coating specially formulated to block HEV rays. Examples of these include Hoya Recharge AR coating (Hoya Vision) and SeeCoat Blue AR coating (Nikon).
Reducing the Risk of Myopia Linked to Computer Use
Though heredity seems to play a significant role in the development of myopia in childhood, some research suggests that eye strain, and specifically computer eye strain, also may be involved.
To see clearly up close, the eye has to exert focusing effort. Some researchers feel that fatigue caused by excessive focusing can lead to changes within the eye that cause myopia. And experts agree that focusing on images on a computer screen causes greater eye fatigue than reading normal print in a book or magazine.
To reduce the risk of focusing fatigue that can cause advancing nearsightedness among kids who spend a lot of time on a computer, many eye doctors recommend frequent breaks from computer work. Some call this the "20-20-10" rule: Every 20 minutes your child should take his eyes off the computer and look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 10 seconds.
This simple exercise relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye and may help reduce eye strain and eye fatigue that could cause progressive myopia. Some eye doctors also recommend special computer glasses to help relieve eye strain.
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Tips for Monitoring Computer Use by Young Children
The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is an organization that sets standards of excellence for programs designed for children from birth through age 8. The organization bases these standards on current research in child development and on the professional opinions of early childhood educators.
NAEYC has issued the following specific recommendations regarding computer use by young children. In addition to helping your child have the best educational experience when working on a computer, these strategies also may decrease your young child's risk of fatigue-related eye strain, computer vision syndrome and computer ergonomics problems:
Digital devices such as tablets can cause eye strain in kids, so monitor their use as well as that of desktops and laptops.
- Computers should supplement, not replace, educational activities such as art, books, music, outdoor exploration, dramatic play and socializing with other children.
- Parents should guide children's use of computers. Be on hand to help your child, answer questions and interact with him as he works on the computer.
- Take the time to observe your child at the computer and participate in computer activities with him. Observing children working at a computer can reveal a lot about the way they think and solve problems.
- Encourage your child to work with a sibling or friend at the computer whenever possible. Using computers with others encourages important social skills, such as turn-taking and cooperation, and helps build your child's ability to speak and listen.
- Learn more about software for young children, and carefully preview the software your child uses. While many high-quality products are available, some software is not appropriate for young children because it is difficult to use, highlights violent themes or does not foster language or learning.
Preparing Your Child for Using Computers at School
To make sure your kids are ready for computer use at school, schedule a comprehensive eye exam for them prior to the start of every school year. This exam should include tests that evaluate near vision skills for computer use and reading as well as visual acuity testing that is conducted both across the room and up close.
Tell your eye doctor if your child has shown any signs of eye or vision problems, such as squinting, frequent eye rubbing, red eyes, head turns and other unusual postures, or if he or she complains of blurred vision or eye fatigue when reading or using a computer. Avoidance of computer work may also indicate vision problems.
Computers are an important (and virtually unavoidable) part of your child's life and education. A comprehensive eye exam each year during the school years can help him be as comfortable as possible and perform at his best during computer work. In some cases, a referral to a children's vision specialist and/or a program of vision therapy may be indicated to resolve computer- or learning-related vision problems.
[Page updated February 2016]