Future generations will look back to this era as the smart revolution. Screen-based smart devices, such as smartphones and tablets, have become mainstream. Some schools are adopting tablet devices to help foster learning.
My daughter's Grade 4 public school classroom, for instance, provided students with iPads to develop their research skills. Screen-based controls are even making their way into home appliances such as refrigerators, washers and dryers. And don't even get me started on the number of people I pass on the street every day who are walking around face-down playing Pokémon Go!
We all know that consistently staring at a screen for long periods of time can have short-term and long-term impacts on our eyes. When our kids are young we can control their screen time, but as our children age, we have less power over the time they spend on screen-based devices. The question is: How can we protect our kids' eyes?
Your child isn't the only one.
According to commonsense.org, children between the ages of 8-18 spend 7.5 hours daily with media and technology (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/screen-time#). The same source cites the percentage of kids using mobile apps has increased from 38 to 72 per cent in the last two years (https://www.commonsensemedia.org/screen-time#).
Why should you protect your kids' eyes?
Prolonged viewing of electronic screens can lead to digital eyestrain. My students in Seneca's Opticianry program are taught to listen for these complaints from their patients:
• tired or itchy eyes
• blurry vision
Sunlight is our main source of white light, which is actually made from a spectrum of colors that correspond to different wavelengths of energy. Blue light, for example, has the shortest wavelength, but emits the highest amount of energy.
Blue light from artificial sources (such as LED and fluorescent lights, and lights used on mobile devices) may emit less light than the sun, and therefore seem to be less dangerous, but man-made blue light is still more harmful, because we expose our eyes to it for longer periods of time, within close proximity to the source.
This may potentially cause long term damage to the eyes, as blue light can penetrate the retina, possibly damaging light-sensitive cells. This damage is linked to macular degeneration, which is an eye disease that can contribute to permanent vision loss.
More research is needed on the effects of blue light exposure on the development of the eye from childhood to adulthood, but I suspect that prolonged exposure can lead to very harmful effects.
Some blue light exposure is vital for good health. Blue light can boost our mood, giving us more energy and cognitive function, and stabilize our natural sleep/wake cycle (known as circadian rhythm).
Too much blue light use, especially at night, can affect our natural circadian rhythm, causing sleeplessness and subsequent fatigue. Late night use of screen time is particularly concerning in the case of toddlers, as their sleep cycle is still developing.
Use, but protect...and then protect some more.
Screens and their associated blue light are clearly here to stay, so let's teach our children how to engage in the smartphone revolution, responsibly.
I highly recommend that parents purchase glasses for their children that feature a special lens coating to filter blue light. Kids can wear these glasses with blue light coating even if they don't require glasses for vision correction, and those parents who do have children with vision issues can request for the manufacturers of their child's lenses to include this special coating on their lenses.
In my home, the general rule is that no one uses a digital device without wearing their blue filter glasses. My five-year-old son, who's passionate about his Lego Batman video game, requires glasses for vision, so he wears his glasses without complaints. My nine-year-old daughter doesn't need glasses, but thinks her blue light glasses are a cool, fashion-forward accessory.
In my work as an optician and a professor at Seneca, I've noticed that most parents have no idea this coating even exists, so I encourage you to ask your optician for more information.
Here are some additional eye-care tips:
• Encourage your child to blink more, as eyes can become dry from staring at a screen
• Use the 20-20-20 rule - For every 20 minutes of screen-viewing time, focus your eyes on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds
• Protect your phone, tablet and laptop using a screen protector that also filters blue light
• Attend your annual eye exam, as these assess both vision and the health of the eye
Pokémon Go is getting our youngsters (and some adults too!) active and outdoors. With these tips, we can still have fun while protecting our eyes!
The smart revolution brings with it ways of connecting with one another that we never even dreamed previously possible, but it is important to consider the risks to our health as we further integrate technology into every aspect of our lives.
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