The COVID 19 pandemic has brought a massive shift in our lifestyles, especially for our children. With the digitalising of classes and increased time spent indoors, there has been a substantial rise in the ‘screen-time’ of a child. As a doctor specialised in children’s eyes problems, I am often asked by the parents- ‘How to protect our children’s eyes during long hours of online schooling?’ So here I give you some simple tips to be kept in mind to prevent eye strain and other effects of excessive screen-time.
First of all, we need to know why digital screens are harmful to our eyes. There are many reasons to this. Many recent studies done worldwide have proven that excessive near work (work done at a short distance from the eyes like reading, writing, playing video games, use of smartphones and tablets) can lead to increase in myopia or short-sightedness. Even prior to the COVID 19 pandemic, in the last decade, we have seen a significant increase in the number of kids requiring spectacles. This is thought to be due to excessive near work especially hand-held gadget use among kids leading to eye strain and elongation of the eye ball. Unfortunately, virtual schooling has only compounded this problem. In addition to short-sightedness, increased screen time may also cause eye fatigue, headache, dryness of eyes etc. as the eyes remain focussed at a fixed distance. The blue light emanating from the screens is considered harmful to our retina especially when used in a dark room. Apart from the eye related problems, excessive screen time in children has shown to cause behavioural changes, reduced attention span, hyperactivity, lack of social skills, sleep disturbances to name a few.
Despite all these issues, gadget use is unavoidable in the current scenario. A few basic precautions taken by you all will help to protect your children’s eyes and avert any major ill effects of excessive screen time. Here are 10 S for eye care during online schooling.
- Screen time: Though there aren’t any exact recommendations for permissible screen time, the general guidelines (adapted from American Academy of Paediatrics and WHO) are as follows
2. Size: The bigger the screen, the better. Prefer connecting the device to a television or use desktop or laptop rather than using smartphones or tablets.
3. Seating and distance: Ensure that your child sits on a comfortable chair in the right posture- feet touching the ground, shoulders relaxed, lower back supported. If using a mobile phone for classes is unavoidable, make sure it is placed on a table at an adequate distance (at least around 50-60 cm away) and not held in the hand. The screen should be below the eye level of the child. Avoid making the child to sit on an adult size desk and chair where the desktop will be higher and the child will have to raise his neck to look at the screen.
4. Spectacles: If your child has been prescribed spectacles by an ophthalmologist, ensure that it is worn at all times.
5. Screen settings: Most gadgets have a night mode in them. This removes the blue rays emanating from the screen. If night mode is not available, keep the brightness to medium; do not keep it too low or high. Ensure the room is well lit.
6. Sunlight exposure: Studies have shown outdoor activities to be protective to eyes, especially for myopia. Ensure at least 45-60 minutes of sunlight exposure every day. In the current circumstances, if taking your children out to play is not possible, ensure that they go out to balcony or terrace during the day time for an hour at least.
7. Stop and proceed: It is very important to take regular breaks in between. This is to give some rest to your eyes. Follow the 20-20-20 rule. I would advise you to stick a picture on the wall in front of the child and ask him/her to look at it every 20 minutes for a few seconds. Or they can look out of a window. Request teachers of younger children to restrict each session to less than 30 minutes.
8. Sleep, diet and exercise: Ensure adequate rest. Do not allow your child to take gadgets to bed. Ideally the child should be screen-free for one hour before bedtime to ensure a good night’s sleep. Children need a minimum of 8 hours of sleep. Maintain good hydration and a healthy balanced diet. Schedule some form of physical activity indoor or outdoor for at least an hour every day.
9. Spend time: Children are going through a rough phase now. They are socially isolated, unable to meet their classmates and friends. Spend time with them, talk to them, play with them, and read to them. Restrict the children from using phones or tablets for games/watching videos. Watching television for limited time could be allowed. As a parent, it is important that you follow digital hygiene practises yourself and be a role model to your child. Limit use of mobile phones for personal work when you are around them.
10. See a doctor: Do not ignore symptoms like eye pain, tiredness or heaviness, headache, blurred vision. Please consult an eye specialist and take timely treatment.
Technology is a double edged sword. With time we will only get more and more dependent on it. It is up to us to find a balance and ensure that it is used in a beneficial manner.
Disclaimer: The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute to professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. This blog has been written based on the author’s professional experience and information gathered from various reputable sources.