As parents, it’s a question most of us are scared to ask ourselves. Most of us grew up with some awareness of the damaging effects of spending too much time on computers or in front of the TV.  During childhood summers, our street used to chime with the chorus of parents warning their children they would get ‘square eyes’ from sitting too close to the TV,  but those days are a far cry from the seemingly full integration of technology into every aspect of our children’s lives.

If we suggest to our children that they take a break from playing a smartphone game or watching films on the iPad, how many of us see them simply hop from one device to another? Even more likely, however, is that they’re already using two or more devices simultaneously to listen to music, watch TV or chat with friends all at the same time. In this new era of technological multitasking, it pays to be aware of the risks to our children’s eye health.

 

What are the effects on eye health?

Now that children’s eyes are spending more time fixed on the digital world than the ‘real’ world, how is this impacting their eye health?

Conditions such as repetitive strain injury (RSI) and computer vision syndrome (CVS) are becoming increasingly common in children, according to eye care specialists. An independent Ofcom report found that 18% of 8-11 year-olds and 26% of those aged 12-15 have their own tablet device – with 42% stating they were often likely to use these at the same time as watching TV. What’s most concerning is that excessive use of computers by young people can affect normal vision development and just two hours per day spent in front of a computer screen can cause CVS.

And while many of us feared the unwieldy black frames of our school days, the choice of fashion eyewear now available is another thing that has changed for the next generation

There is a simple reason that these health conditions are on the rise with increasing use of technology. The way our eyes focus on the text and images on screens is different to books and newspapers. On-screen characters are made up of tiny dots (or ‘pixels’) that are much less dense and therefore harder to focus on than printed materials. In response, our eyes undergo a continuous cycle of relaxing and then straining to regain focus on the text, which over the course of many hours a day can result in symptoms of CVS such as tired and dry eyes, twitching, burning sensations, headaches and blurred vision.

 

How can we protect our children from eye damage?

With technology necessary for studying and communicating and increasing peer pressure to stay online, how can we protect our children from eye damage? Here are some tips for parents based on recommendations from eye health specialists.

  1. Follow the ‘20/20 rule’: Children should take a 20-second screen break every 20 minutes
  2. Keep screens at a distance: Position devices at least 18 inches from the eyes and encourage younger children to use stands for devices rather than hold them
  3. Tilt screens upwards: This reduces strain on young eyes that are not fully developed.
  4. Book an Eye Test: Your local Optician isn’t just concerned with fitting glasses. They are trained to spot problems developing in the eyes that might affect your child’s health or vision.

In some cases, prescription glasses might be an option that your optician recommends. Prescription glasses can significantly alleviate symptoms by reducing the constant refocusing process that the eyes go through when looking at screens.

And while many of us feared the unwieldy black frames of our school days, the choice of fashion eyewear now available is another thing that has changed for the next generation.  With so many styles of glasses available, you’ll find something to suit all ages and personalities, so you can be sure your children look and feel comfortable wearing them.

If you’d like further information, contact your local independent optician and they will be able to provide advice on the solutions available.