Is Technology Harming Kids' Eyes and Ears?August 28, 2018
Experts agree that children’s eyes and ears need regular breaks from tech activities. Here, some helpful strategies.
Limit technology (and close work time). When kids are looking at a screen, follow the 20-20-20 rule: Set a timer for 20 minutes, suggests the AAO, to remind them to look out a window or at an object that’s at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
If a youngster is reading an e-book, use the bookmark function to help him or her remember to take regular visual breaks. In a physical book, you can place paper clips at the beginning of every other chapter. During video game play, kids should rest their eyes after each level. When listening to music, on headphones or through speakers, tell them to take breaks every hour.
Some newer technologies, such as routers that pause WiFi access during dinner and bedtime, can help too.
Use screens properly. Encourage children to adopt good posture when using technology and to keep anything with a screen about 18 to 24 inches away from their eyes. Remind them to blink when looking at a screen and don’t allow them to use computers in brightly lit areas—to help protect against eye strain.
If you want to reduce blue light exposure, note that some devices, such as smartphones and computers, have nighttime settings, which filter out the blue tones from the screen. "It doesn’t completely eliminate blue light exposure," says Epley, "but it does reduce how much is presented to your brain." No research has determined how effective these settings are at helping you sleep, says Epley, but there’s no harm in trying them.
Give them outdoor time. Some research indicates that children who spend time outside each day have a lower risk of developing myopia, Epley says. Researchers aren’t sure why, but there’s no harm in more outdoor play time—especially since it can offer other benefits, such as exercise.
Turn down the sound. One of the leading causes of hearing loss is exposure to noise. Even a single burst of loud sound, such as a firecracker, can damage the tiny hair cells that line the inner ear, often irreversibly.
If your child can’t hear you when listening to music on headphones or through speakers, reduce the volume. Do the same if they’re wearing headphones and you can hear the music.
Choose the right headphones. Consider noise-canceling headphones for use when kids are listening in noisy environments, such as in a car or on the bus. This may encourage them to use lower volumes since they won’t need to crank it up to drown out outside noise. (In very noisy situations, such as at a rock concert, on an airplane, or near a chainsaw or firearm, make sure they use hearing protection such as earplugs.)
You might come across some “kid-friendly” headphones on the market that claim to limit the volume at which sound can be played. These can be a good option, says Farrell, but keep in mind that there’s no agreed-upon safe level of sound for headphones, and manufacturers of such devices are not held to strict standards.
And some headphones have been found to play sounds at levels higher than those stated on their packaging. As with any consumer product, says Farrell, “you can never be guaranteed it’s doing exactly what it says.”
Model good behavior. One of the most important steps, say experts, is adopting safe technology habits yourself. If you do so, youngsters are more likely to treat their own eyes and ears with care.
Know when to get help. Watch for symptoms of eye or ear strain in your kids. Eye strain might cause behavioral changes, such as irritability, aggressiveness, or anger. Kids may also start rubbing their eyes (which may look pinkish), blink a lot, or complain of discomfort, Epley says. Putting stricter limits on their screen time may help. But if problems persist, take them to their doctor.
Signs of a hearing problem, Farrell says, could be “any pain, ringing, or buzzing in ears, or if sounds are muffled after exposure to a loud sound.” Being less responsive when called, missing parts of a conversation, or declining school performance might also signal that it’s time for a hearing checkup.
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