The 21st Century Child: Increased Technology Use May Lead to Future Eye Health and Vision Issues
Digital technology has become an integral part of children’s lives both in the classroom and
at home, and it’s predicted that by 2028 – the year when kids entering kindergarten this fall will graduate high school – many schools will rely heavily on computer simulations for instruction and will even incorporate virtual worlds into curriculums. While advances in technology may help enhance learning, many digital devices are still relatively new and the long-term effects on young eyes are still being determined.
According to the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) 2015 American Eye-Q® survey, 41 percent of parents say their kids spend three or more hours per day using digital devices, and 66 percent of kids have their own smartphone or tablet.
“21st century children have had access to electronic devices their whole lives,” says Dr. Edward Harmer, optometric physician and president of the New Jersey Society of Optometric Physicians (NJSOP). “Since technology use is expected to continue to climb, we need to make sure that children and parents are aware of the visual risks associated with staring at screens for long periods of time and take the proper precautions to help alleviate eye and vision problems.”
Parents and caregivers should watch for signs of digital eye strain in children, which can cause burning, itchy or tired eyes, headaches, fatigue, loss of focus, blurred vision, double vision or head and neck pain. When it comes to protecting children’s eyes and vision, encourage them to take frequent visual breaks by practicing the 20-20-20 rule: when using technology or doing near work, take a 20-second break, every 20 minutes and view something 20 feet away.
Today’s electronic devices also give off high-energy, short-wavelength, blue and violet light, which may affect vision and even prematurely age the eyes. Early research shows that overexposure to blue light could contribute to eye strain and discomfort and may lead to serious conditions in later life such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which can cause blindness.
Optometrists are also closely monitoring new research surrounding the increasing amount of time today’s children spend indoors on electronic devices and the decreasing time spent playing outside. New studies suggest a lack of exposure to sunlight could affect the growth and development of the eyes and vision, possibly contributing to an increase in the number of cases of myopia, or nearsightedness, in younger people in recent years.
“A child’s eyes are still changing between the ages of 5 and 13 years old,” said Harmer.“Therefore, during this time, the distance between the lens and the retina is also still changing. When the distance between the two lengthens, we see an increase in the instances of nearsightedness. Preliminary studies are now showing us that exposure to natural light may play a role in reducing the likelihood of nearsightedness.”
It’s essential to make comprehensive eye exams a priority each school year to protect children’s eye and vision health. The AOA recommends parents take children in for an eye exam by an optometrist soon after six months of age, again by age three and annually thereafter. Through the Pediatric Essential Health Benefit in the Affordable Care Act, parents can take advantage of yearly comprehensive eye exams for children ages 18 and younger.
To find an optometrist in New Jersey, or for additional information on children’s eye health and vision, please visit our Find-A-Doc tool here!