When first introduced, computers were almost exclusively used by adults. Today, children increasingly use computers, both for education and recreation. Millions of children use computers on a daily basis at school and at home.
Children can experience many of the same symptoms related to computer use as suffered by adults. Extensive viewing of the computer screen can lead to eye discomfort, fatigue, blurred vision and headaches. However, some unique aspects of how children use computers may make them more susceptible to the development of these problems,
for example, performing an enjoyable task with great concentration until near exhaustion and playing video games for hours with little, if any, breaks.
Prolonged activity without a significant break can cause eye focusing (accommodative) problems and eye irritation. Accommodative problems may occur as a result of the eyes' focusing system, staring for too long at particular target and viewing distance. In some cases, this may cause the eyes problems with smoothly and easily focusing on a particular object, even long after the original work is completed.
Eye irritation may occur because of poor tear flow over the eye due to reduced blinking. Blinking is often inhibited by concentration and staring at a computer or video screen. Compounding this, computers usually are located higher in the field of view than traditional paperwork. This results in the upper eyelids being retracted to a greater extent. Therefore, the eye tends to experience more than the normal amount of tear evaporation resulting in dryness and irritation.
Children are very adaptable and although there are many positive aspects to their adaptability, they frequently ignore problems that would be addressed by adults. A child who is viewing a computer screen with a large amount of glare often doesnt think about changing the computer arrangement or the surroundings to achieve more comfortable viewing. This can result in excessive eye strain.
Children often fail to mention, blurred vision caused by nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopic), or astigmatism. Uncorrected farsightedness can cause eye strain, even when clear vision can be maintained. Most computer workstations are arranged for adult use; therefore, a child using a computer on a typical office desk must look up further than an adult. Since the most efficient viewing angle is slightly downward (roughly 15 degrees), problems using the eyes together can occur. In addition, children may have difficulty reaching the keyboard or placing their feet on the floor, causing arm, neck or back discomfort.
Children often use computers in a home or classroom with less than optimum lighting. The lighting level for the proper use of a computer is about half as bright as that normally found in a classroom. Increased light levels can contribute to excessive glare and problems associated with adjustment of the eye to different levels of light.
Have your child's vision checked. This will make sure that they can see clearly and comfortably and can also detect any hidden conditions that may contribute to eye strain. When necessary, glasses, contact lenses or vision therapy can provide clear, comfortable vision, not just for using the computer, but for all other aspects of daily activities.
Strictly enforce the amount of time that a child can continuously use the computer. A ten minute break every hour will minimize the development of eye focusing problems and eye irritation caused by improper blinking.
Carefully check the height and arrangement of the computer. The child's size should determine how the monitor and keyboard are positioned. In many situations, the computer monitor will be too high in the child's field of view, the chair too low and the desk too high. A good solution for many of these problems is an adjustable chair that can be raised for the child's comfort, since it is usually difficult to lower the computer monitor. A foot stool may be necessary to support the child's feet and thus reduce the risk of back pain.
Carefully check the lighting for glare on the computer screen. Windows or other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of the monitor. When this occurs, the desk or computer may be turned to prevent glare on the screen. Sometimes glare is less obvious. In this case, holding a small mirror flat against the screen can be a useful way to look for light sources that are reflecting off the screen, from above or behind. If a light source can be seen in the mirror, the offending light should be moved or blocked from hitting the screen.
Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen. Often this is very simple in the home. In some cases, a smaller light can be substituted for the bright overhead light or a dimmer switch can be installed to give flexible control of room lighting. In other cases, a three way bulb can be turned onto its lowest setting.
Children have different needs to comfortably use a computer. A small amount of effort can help reinforce appropriate viewing habits and assure comfortable and enjoyable computer use and prevent future health problems.