Children these days are more connected to the outside world than ever before thanks to the influx of technology over the last several years. While being tethered to a digital device like a smart phone or tablet may offer benefits in learning, social interaction, and, in some cases, boredom, the frequent use of technology can be harmful to a young person’s eye health.
Digital eye strain is a prevalent issue among children who spend a significant amount of time on screens. However, parents may not recognise eye health an underlying issue immediately.
Digital Eye Strain and Screen Time
When children have frequent exposure to screen time, digital eye strain is likely to occur. It can happen to adults, too, but youngsters are more likely to develop the eye health issue. This is because they cannot always gauge how long they have been using a device without a break. When eye strain from digital devices happens, dry, itchy, or burning eyes develop. There is also a chance that a child will experience other symptoms, like sensitivity to light, trouble concentrating, or headaches.
While digital eye strain from too much screen time is not the end of the world, it can create complications for both the parent and the child. Symptoms may be difficult for a child to explain, leaving parents without a full understanding of what’s wrong.
It is common for digital eye strain to be mistaken for another condition, especially when parents are unaware of how much screen time a child has each day.
The Issue of Misdiagnosis
According to a group of specialists in medical negligence in the UK, digital eye strain may be initially misdiagnosed as a more complex condition. Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, creates similar warning signs as eye strain in children relating to concertation and focus. As a mental health disorder, ADHD causes inattentiveness, poor behavior, impulsivity, and problems with organisation. Digital eye strain may indirectly lead to these issues as well because the eyes are not functioning as they should. The problem lies in misdiagnosing digital eye strain as ADHD at the onset of symptoms, which may lead to children receiving treatment for a condition they do not truly have.
The typical treatment for ADHD is two-fold, including therapy and management skills education alongside prescription medications. While the former may not negatively impact a child, adding an unnecessary medication that alters their mood or functioning abilities can be detrimental to their health. This is why it is crucial to get the right diagnosis from the start.
Getting it Right
If a child has been diagnosed with ADHD and started on a treatment plan, parents must take the time to watch for signs of improvement in behavioural issues, in the classroom, and focus and organisational skills. If the treatment plan is not proving beneficial or symptoms get worse, going back to the doctor for a follow-up exam and diagnosis is essential. In many cases, digital eye strain is not considered as part of the problem, and so it is overlooked altogether.
A diagnosis of digital eye strain is best delivered from an eye doctor or specialist. They can quickly uncover eye health issues in children and recommend a course of action that likely does not include medication or therapy. Instead, parents can take simple steps to help a child experiencing digital eye strain get back on track with eye health.
Avoiding Digital Eye Strain
It is important for parents to note that there is no single standard to live by when it comes to screen time and children. Recent studies highlight this fact, stating individual families set the ground rules for digital device use in their homes. Screens are not inherently bad, as they can aid in increasing creative thinking, problem-solving, and new ways of learning for young children up to teens. However, limiting screen use is recommended to avoid issues related to digital eye strain.
The general rule of thumb is to build in breaks from the screen every 20 minutes. Whether the parent takes on the responsibility for monitoring continuous use, or the child using the screen pays attention to the clock, taking eyes away for short periods can make all the difference in a child’s eye health. Similarly, parents can alter devices their children use by adjusting the display. Reducing the brightness helps to decrease potential eye strain issues down the line.
Alternatives to Screen Time
Parents may also want to ensure their children have other outlets for creativity and learning that do not involve a screen. These activities range widely depending on the interests of the child – and the parent – but a few options may include cooking a meal together, playing a board game with the family, or organising an area or room of the house as a team. While these may seem like simple tasks, they can make a significant difference in total screen time throughout any given day.
Encouraging children to use digital devices is the norm in today’s ever-connected world. Parents should not feel bad about providing screens for their children to use, but there are things to be on the lookout for over time. Digital eye strain is a real issue among young children, but it can be misdiagnosed as another, more serious issue.
Paying close attention to a child’s behaviour and well-being is the best step a parent can take to ensure their child is healthy, followed closely by putting in place some general rules regarding screen time.