It is a fact that children of today are smarter than those of our times. They have grown with technology at their finger tips. Whenever we see them using a tablet, computer, smart phone, e-reader, or any other digital device, it seems they have learnt it before they learnt how to walk. Digital technology is a recent development in India and has many advantages yet there is concern among researchers about the latent harm that digital technology is causing to the children’s body, mind and more particularly eyes. Let us see how:
Damaging Effects Of Digital Devices:
As we live in the digital age, increasing number of children have access to digital devices at home and in their schools. They are becoming dependent on digital devices for their work, socializing and recreation. From televisions and computers to smartphones and tablets, there are more opportunities than ever for children to interact with digital technology both in education and play.
On an average 52% children in India spend more than four hours daily using digital devices and do multitasking screen vision activities. Even children from 2 to 6 years of age spend hours on digital devices for entertainment or texting activities. Children in 8 to 12 age group are involved in multi tasking activities such as using social media platforms, messaging, chatting, or playing their favourite games using digital devices. This directly or indirectly affects their eye health and damages their eyesight.
Common Symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS)
In fast developing countries like India, not many studies on CVS have been carried out. But in spite of this computer use has attained a significant patronage especially with the upsurge of information and communication technology. Sadly, many ophthalmologists when contacted did not respond positively to share their professional views on the problems. However, researches done in this field reveal the following common symptoms.
Normally we blink 10 to 12 times a minute. When we watch television our blink rate is reduced to 5 to 6 a minute and while working on the computer it further goes down to 3 to 4 times a minute and on small screen devices 2/3 times a minute. This leads to evaporation of useful layer of tears and results in irritation and dry eyes syndrome. To overcome this, the computer screen should be kept at 20 to 40 degrees below the eye level. This leads to partial closure of the eyes by the lids thereby decreasing the evaporative surface. Many ophthalmologists agree that blinking rate may decline by 60 percent of a person using a digital device for a prolonged period of time. Our children use digital technology more than an average working person – this is a cause for concern. Increasing evidence reveals that CVS can significantly harm workplace productivity, as it places unusual strain on human physical wellbeing. Thereby, it reduces the number of hours children sit to do their academic reading and studies.
Double Vision Problem
Double vision, clinically called diplopia, indicates weakness of the eyes of those students who view the computer or other digital devices for more than four hours per day. When an individual sees a double image where there should only be one it is referred to as double vision or diplopia. The two images can be side by side, one on top of the other, or a combination of both. Children’s eyes, who watch digital devices with rapt attention without moving or blinking their eyes, can become weakened by muscular movement of the eyes and produce double vision. Double vision can be caused by a number of underlying conditions. Double vision treatment can include surgery, eye exercises, or corrective lenses.
After every summer vacation, I observe our school children feeling tired and complaining of headache. They even show lack of interest in studies resulting from many other reasons, but use of digital devices at home for extended periods of time is also one reason. While it may be inevitable that children will watch television or use other screen devices, the solution is moderation.
According to a recent study, children’s eyes absorb more blue light than adults from digital device screens, which is a growing concern. The popularity of cell phones, computers and tablets for school reading and personal use continues to grow each year.
Evidence shows intense blue light causes damage to the back of the eye — the retina — and exposure in children could possibly lead to early onset of macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness for those over 50, and to the earlier incidence of cataracts. Blue wavelengths are crucial during daylight — they boost our attention, reaction and mood — but are disastrous at night as they interfere with circadian rhythm and disrupt sleep.
Just about every digital screen — computer, tablet and smart phone — now uses Light Emitting Diode (LED) backlight because it produces brighter and more colourful images as well as being energy efficient. But LED also emits more blue light directly into the eye than previous screen technology such as Liquid Crystal Diode (LCD)
Digital Dementia – this expression was first used by German neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer in his book of the same name. It is a term used to describe how overuse of digital technology is resulting in decreased memory performance.
Sleep Disorders and Deprivation:
Almost 60% of parents do not supervise their child’s technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms. A whopping 56% of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades are detrimentally impacted. A growing number of children use digital devices in their bedrooms which harms their sleep and eyes. This leads to poor performance the next day and results in lazy eye syndrome.
Digital devices have quickly become a staple part of daily life for both adults and children. So it’s hardly surprising that the risks and potential problems associated with the overuse of devices often go unnoticed. But both parents and schools can take precautionary measures to minimise any potential risk of digital devices. To ensure that children use digital devices in a healthy way, doctors, optometrists, researchers and pedagogues have provided some tips and measures to ensure that children get the most out of their devices whilst protecting their eyesight.
- Regular eye checks. Children’s vision is critical to their learning and development, making regular checkups with an Optometrist essential in younger years. An Optometrist can adjust their examination in accordance with the age and capability of the child. Whilst a child can be seen at any age, they are most typically tested by an optician from around the ages of 3-4. Make sure you let the optometrist know about any family history of eye or vision problems.
- Arrange Appropriate light source While a child is on the computer, avoid placing a light source behind the screen, as your eyes will struggle to adjust to the two often glaring and competing light sources. Instead, place your lamp to the side or behind you to avoid discomfort and eye strain.
- Maintain distance from your screen Using digital devices too close to a screen can cause discomfort, stress and strain the eyes and can be a sign that the child is developing short-sightedness or Myopia. To prevent this, train the child to sit at least an arm’s length from the screen.
- Follow 20/20/20/ Rule The thumb rule to avoid eye stress is to follow the 20/20/20 rule (for every 20 minutes spent on a digital device, spend 20 seconds looking at something 20 feet away) can be difficult to monitor in children. Designating a specific time period for digital use, with intermittent activities arranged between these times, will allow your child’s eyes to relax.
- Encourage outdoor Activities : All optometrists recommend swapping a digital screen for the pleasures of the great outdoors to improve a child’s overall health. Encourage students to restrict multitasking on digital devices; encourage them to play outdoors, read books manually, read newspapers, solve Sudoku puzzles, etc.
Ashok Singh Guleria
Ashok Singh Guleria teacher of 19 years standing is a post- graduate in English Literature. He writes on pedagogical issues and children’s behavioural concerns. Currently, he is the Head of Department of English and Academic coordinator cum Teachers’ Trainer at the Akal Academy Group of Schools, Kajri U.P. He can be reached out at email@example.com