Computers and Children’s Vision
There is no denying that children benefit from using computers in many ways. What we don’t yet know is just how much computer use is hurting their eyesight. Children can suffer from the eye strain and vision problems which computers cause in adults, but they may also be suffering from problems with the development of their vision.
Changes in Play
In the past children spent a great deal of their spare time playing outside where they developed their distance vision. Simply looking across the room or out the window, while playing indoors, still exercised distance vision to some extent.
When using the computer vision is focused on a single near point. Distance vision is not exercised. This is not good for anyone, and we are learning that it may be contributing to the development of nearsightedness in children.
Changes in Reading
Reading a book is much easier on the eyes than reading on the computer screen. While it may not seem all that different, the brain processes letters on the written page in a different way than it does when reading on the screen. Letters on the screen are made up of pixels and the screen emits light. Even though you don’t notice it, the screen is constantly flickering. The speed of the flicker is called the refresh rate. When reading on a computer our eyes are constantly refocusing, causing strain.
Children are too Patient and Don’t Complain Enough
Yes, you read that right. We tend to think of a short attention span as one of the hallmarks of youth, especially when it comes to very young children. But when children get truly absorbed in an activity, they can stick with it for hours, oblivious to the passage of time and to irritations such as eye strain (and parents’ voices). This is one reason why computers make such excellent educational tools – they keep their attention. At the same time, most children do not notice when they need to take a break.
At the same time, children have a different view of reality. A child’s only point of reference is himself. Often, children do not notice when they experience vision problems. They assume that their own experience is everyone’s, so they do not tell us when they have a vision problem because they are not aware that they could be seeing any differently.
Preventing vision problems
You do not have to ban computer use to protect your child’s eyesight. Regular eye exams can catch vision problems before they become serious. Setting up the computer for the least eyestrain, just as you should be doing for yourself, but adjusted for your child’s height and size, will minimize the impact. Encourage your child to do other things, including taking breaks from the computer to walk around, stretch, go outside and look at things in the distance. Real, paper books can provide a nice change, as well.