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Covid-19 Pandemic: Too Much Screen Time Harmful To Children’s Eyes

The closure of schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic has offered children around the world very limited options to learn and play. Many children in urban areas and middle-class families have found pleasure in watching television and using electronic devices such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets and so on.

Myopia Institute explains that although this may seem “normal” nowadays, too much exposure to the blue light emitted from gadgets may cause adverse effects on visual health. These electronic devices are said to produce high-energy visible light in the form of blue rays which easily enters the eyes of children increasing their risk of developing eye problems in future. One of the conditions linked to excessive gadget use is the computer vision syndrome, popularly known as digital eye strain.

Optometrists explains that computer vision syndrome is the visual discomfort you or your kids experience after watching TV or using your gadgets for an extended time. Your eyes may feel sore, heavy and tired. This may also be accompanied by headaches, nausea and dry eyes.

Another potential effect of too much screen time is myopia. Some researchers believe that letting your children enjoy outside more often can reduce their risk of having myopia or at least slow down its progression. However, as children prefer to stay at home and play games or watch TV all day, this habit may make them more likely to become nearsighted.

Eye care specialists say it may be impractical to have your children stop using digital devices altogether. What you can do is limit their screen time. For one, teach them the 20-20-20 habit. Every time they spend 20 minutes on their gadgets, have them look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds or more. Fortunately for us in Africa, we have a lot of indoors activities that can keep our children entertained. Indoor games like Ludo, Oware and Scrabble do not only bring about excitement in the home but also promotes team work among children.

It is best for newborns up to 18 months old to have no screen time unless you include them in a video call. Parents’ supervision and limited screen time is advised for those older than 18 months until 24 months. Two to five-year-olds should have a 60-minute maximum gadget time.

The harmful effects of digital screens on the eye is that the blue-violet light coming from your gadgets is akin to “Digital Heroin” leading to retinal damage. You tend to blink less while using your phone, which irritates your eyes. Addiction to phone disrupts your sleep and indirectly causes eye damage, especially harmful for children addicted to technology.

Your eyes are the windows to the world. Taking utmost care of your eyes is essential as they are the most delicate and important organs of the body. Children addicted to technology suffer from its harmful effects.

Reports have suggested that, in 2013, before age 8, 72 percent of children used digital tools compared to 38 percent in 2011. In children under 2, this percentage is even more striking, with electronic use increasing from 10 percent in 2011 to 38 percent in 2013.In a recent survey of people ages 16 to 19, the average screen time was between five and seven hours a day. In another study, children ages 3 to 11 played with an interactive screen for more than 30 minutes a day, and about half of that time was spent alone.

Head of Psychology Department, University of Ghana, Legon Prof. Joseph Osafo revealed on Kokrokoo discussion segment on Peace FM in Accra that children between 2-5 years spend about 32 hours watching TV a week, whiles those between 8-18 years spend 28 hours on TV a week. Prof. Osafo was of the view that these long hours spent on TV could make children addicted to pornography, cause them to have aggressive behaviours and develop anxiety disorders. He therefore urges parents to monitor their children’s gadget use, engaging them in reading and playing indoor and outdoor games to distract them from long hours on TV.

Undeniably, the use of screens in our daily lives has multiple advantages. Electronic gadgets are portable, easy-to-use and can provide extensive amounts of information at the tap of a finger. However, despite these devices’ usefulness, the extent to which the average child uses screens has raised red flags in terms of the effect it might have on his or her eyes. Amid the current pandemic, most schools around the world have been forced to close, and the resulting use of alternative methods of teaching has forced the screen time of kids to increase drastically.

Children are having to complete a school curriculum entirely on a screen. In addition, social distancing has decreased recreational activities, resulting in even more screen time. In light of these changes, it’s important to take into account the effect these screens have on children’s eyes and regulate the use of screens in order to prevent permanent damage.

In a study involving 576 school-age children between 11 and 17 years old, 18 percent experienced eyestrain at the end of the day after working on digital devices. Asthenopia is caused by a multitude of factors, including an imbalance of the extraocular muscles, accommodative insufficiency, uncorrected refractive error and improper lighting. Reading distance also contributes significantly to the development of asthenopia. The ideal distance for reading and writing is considered to be between 30 and 40 cm; for a computer screen it should be 50 to 70 cm. The reading distance for a smartphone is 20 to 30 cm significantly closer than reading or computer distance which causes a majority of patients to develop asthenopia symptoms after only an hour of use.

Keeping your phone away from your reach before you hit the bed is the best way to avoid wasting your precious time on your phone and utilizing it for a peaceful sleep. Research has revealed that most devices suppress melatonin, which disrupts your body clock. Limit phone use during bedtime to reduce eye pain.

Eliminate your phone’s screen glare by reducing the overhead lighting. Using the night mode can also make reading easier and relax your eye retina.

In a research paper titled A Cross-Sectional Study of Pediatric Eye Care Perceptions in Ghana, Honduras and India, more than 1.4 million blind children worldwide live in developing countries.  95 percent of caregivers believed in the importance of eye exams for children, yet 66 percent of caregivers said that none of their children has even received an eye exam. The major reason participants gave for not taking their children for an eye checkup was that they believed that their children have no eye problems.

Multiples studies also indicate the adverse effects of screen time on children’s language and speech development and this is one of the reasons optometrists advise that children below 3 to stay away from television and mobile screen completely. Parents must understand and appreciate that the eyes of children are important to their development and despite their busy work schedules and household duties, they must make time to send their children for eye exams. Eye conditions like Glaucoma can cause blindness and is the leading cause of blindness for people over 60 but it can occur at any age although it is more common in older adults. Many forms of glaucoma have no warning signs and the effect is so gradual that one may not notice a change in vision until the condition is at an advanced stage.

Vision loss from glaucoma cannot be recovered so it is important to have regular eye exams that would include measurements of the eye pressure so that diagnosis can be made in its early stages and treated appropriately. If glaucoma is recognized early, vision loss can be slowed or prevented.



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