Is Distance Learning Harmful to Kids’ Eyesight?
We now live in a time of unprecedented change. With the pandemic affecting the whole world, the way we do things has had to adjust with the times, including how kids continue with school.
Many school systems have started the school year either going completely online or using a hybrid of actual classroom time and distance learning. Either way, this means an increased use of devices.
Here, we discuss most parents’ dilemma - is distance learning harmful to kids’ eyesight? What can we do to reduce any negative effects that increased screen time brings?
The Possible Effects
According to experts, the “comfortable’ reading distance is 16 inches. At this distance, the eyes are in a relaxed and straight-ahead position. However, with devices, phones in particular, they’re finding that children are reading at 10 to 12 inches away. At this distance, the eyes are forced to turn in to focus on the device’s screen. This can lead to eye fatigue, and subsequently to headaches or other problems with vision.
What’s worrying is that while adults will automatically adjust conditions when using a computer to make it more comfortable - brighten the screen, raise their chair, or put on glasses, children will ignore any signs of discomfort that could result in eye strain.
There is still no clear link between increased screen-time and myopia in children but research data from the American Optometric Association in 2018 show that there was a 25 percent increase in incidence of myopia in children from 40 years ago when the screen time people had was largely with the television.
What is myopia?
In layman’s terms, myopia is nearsightedness or the inability to clearly see things that are faraway. In a myopic eye, the eyeball is more elongated than normal. This means the eye’s focusing power is too strong. This causes light rays to focus in front of the retina instead of on it. This phenomenon is what creates a blurry image.
Fortunately, myopia is a correctable condition with the use of contact lenses, glasses, or eventual lasik (laser eye surgery) when they get older. However, research also shows that children with severe myopia are likely to develop serious eye problems down the road, including retinal detachment, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.
Because of the possible serious effects of increased usage of devices due to distance learning, it becomes more important to be mindful of precautions we can take as parents to prevent this.
Eye strain risk is just one impact distance learning can have on children’s vision health. Here are other implications:
For some vulnerable communities, vision screenings may only be received in school. With schools being closed, some children may not have access to resources for more comprehensive eye exams.
Parents may not be able to see signs of vision problems while the children are learning at home.
When children spend their schooling at home, there is less structure for recess or outdoor activities. Unsupervised, they may spend even more time on their devices than what’s healthy.
Distance Learning Harmful to Kids’ Eyesight - What You Can Do
While there are factors that make children more likely to develop myopia (genetics, for one), there are certainly steps we can take as parents to reduce the risks of developing vision problems.
Establish an eye-healthy lifestyle at home
It needs to be a lifestyle change for it to be effective. Therefore, it’s important to set rules and to be consistent in enforcing the rules.
Set screen times
The Children’s Eye Foundation has the following recommendations:
For children aged under 2 - NO SCREEN TIME with daily outdoor play
For children 2 to 5 - maximum of 1-2 hours a day
For kids over 5 - guided screen time with frequent breaks for kids.
In addition, you should set a “no-screens” rule where they have to turn off their devices an hour or two before their scheduled bedtime. The blue light emitted by the devices interferes with the circadian cycle and can disrupt your child’s sleep.
It’s also important to limit their phone use. There are time management features in phones, as well as apps, that can allow you to regulate the amount of time your child spends on his device.
Set aside time for frequent breaks
If you allow it, children will stay on the computer or devices for hours at a time without interruption. They hardly even blink while they are at it! Here are practical recommendations:
When your child is working on school work, set 20 second breaks for every 20 minutes of close-up work. Let your child look at something 20 feet away to rest his eyes.
So you don’t forget to take breaks, set a timer to go off every 20 minutes.
Aside from the time they spend on screen, it’s important to likewise monitor your child’s distance from the screen. Here’s the recommendations from experts:
Mobile phones - one foot away
Desktop devices and laptops - two feet away
TV screens - roughly 10 feet, depending on the size of the screen. The bigger the screen, the farther the distance should be.
Another practical piece of advice on the ideal working distance? Have your child put an elbow on the table and rest his head on that hand. Your child should not be any closer than if he can lift his elbow to touch the screen.
The position of the screen is also an important factor in reducing eye strain. It should be positioned at eye level or even lower so as to avoid your child from having to look up at the screen.
Encourage outdoor time
Children these days have grown accustomed to being cooped up indoors, and this has been exacerbated by the pandemic. There are studies that suggest that spending time outdoors may slow down the onset of myopia and even keep it from progressing.
Have your child wear a pair of quality sunglasses to protect his eyes from damaging blue and UV light from the sun when spending time outdoors (while observing social distancing, of course).
Set up your child’s study station properly
If you’ve been working from home during these difficult times, you know the impact of having a good workstation on your productivity. It works much the same way for your child.
Choose a location where there is minimum glare. Setting up the workstation perpendicular to any window will help. Make sure to adjust the brightness down so it's suitable for indoor use. Don’t allow them to use digital devices outdoors.
Keep an eye out for vision issues
Children may not be aware that they are already having vision problems until it’s too late. But they will exhibit certain behaviors that can indicate vision issues. Watch out for these telltale signs:
✔ Complaints of headaches or tired eyes
✔ Squinting or tilting the head to see better
✔ Frequent eye rubbing
✔ Excessive blinking
✔ Sensitivity to light
✔ Excessive tearing
✔ Avoidance of activities that require near vision such as reading, or distance vision such sports or other recreational activities
✔ Sitting too close to the TV
✔ Holding a book too close
Do not skip vision screening
While you may be reluctant to see an eye doctor during this pandemic, it’s advisable to take your child for a vision screening to check for potential problems. We are sure there are guidelines and safety protocols in place in clinics so you may be able to take your child for a consultation safely.
Getting early intervention is key in keeping your child’s vision health.
For now, distance learning is the new normal for kids going back to school. While the increased use of computers and devices may put your child at risk of developing vision problems, there are many steps you can take to avoid this. We hope we gave you practical advice on this matter.
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