Health Risks Posed to Children by Daily Computer Use

Thanks to Cindy Eckard, a Maryland advocate for computer safety in schools, for sharing this research.  Cindy has published op-eds regarding screentime in the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post.

Additional Research: Some of the health risks posed to children by daily computer use

by Cindy Eckard

There are a variety of issues that are working against the health of children using computers daily. Many of the challenges these devices create for children affect their psychological and social skills: isolation, depression and the growing inability to recognize emotions in the faces of the people around them, for instance. There is a growing body of evidence in these areas that schools need to consider as they increase the use of computers in the classroom. The latent functions of these devices pose larger risks than generally realized; there are more significant prices to be paid than most school administrators are willing to admit or explore.

Here’s a UCLA study:

Basic, common sense protection for our children’s physical health is required. 10-15 year-old children are already prone to myopia; it’s the shape their eyes are taking at this stage in their physical development:

And because long-term fixed distance viewing is very well known to promote nearsightedness, the pre-teen and teenage developmental precondition for myopia is being exacerbated when middle school kids are required to stare at a computer for excessive periods of time. The students are further disadvantaged in middle school because right when they need recess the most — the one activity that has been proven to mitigate myopia — they are denied any regular outdoor play.

This is a complete recipe for disaster, and the scientific community has already begun to tally the damage. The latest USC study specifically identifies screens as the cause for childhood myopia doubling in the U.S. in the last 50 years. The schools must pay attention to this.

The blue light from the monitors is another significant concern. Kids blink 66% less often when they use a computer. That’s why dry eyes are so frequent.

The UV blue light emissions that damage the back of our eyes are better able to penetrate children’s eyes because the kids are not blinking, and because a child’s eye doesn’t have the necessary pigmentation to protect against the blue light. So the child is staring into a computer whose damaging light penetrates right to the back of his eye. That’s why it’s so dangerous for children’s vision and people are now talking about computer-related macular degeneration instead of age-related macular degeneration. Start a child in kindergarten on these devices, and good luck by the time they graduate.

Experts say the damage is cumulative.

Blue light emissions have also been shown to reduce melatonin levels which interrupts circadian rhythms and sleep patterns. Because kids are forced to use computers in the evening, to complete assignments that are exclusively online, they are beginning to suffer the effects of sleeplessness: fatigue, irritability and inability to concentrate. As a result, some kids are now being misdiagnosed as having ADHD, when they are simply exhausted.

Here’s a citation: This constant blue light exposure, while inflicting long-term damage to the retina, can also affect our ability to fall asleep. Exposure to these wavelengths after dark will affect our internal clock, causing the pineal gland to suppress the excretion of melatonin, our sleep hormone. This affects our ability to fall asleep. In kids this can lead to loss of focus and concentration, irritability, and hyperactivity, sometimes being mistaken for symptoms of ADHD.

This link has more information about blue light and sleeplessness and a very good video that explains the physiology:

Environmental and ergonomic considerations also must be addressed: bad lighting, poor contrast settings and glare on the screens all make the children’s eyes work harder, causing more eye strain. Princeton University has a comprehensive outline of considerations to maximize the ergonomically safe use of computers:

The following article is an excellent overview of computer vision syndrome concerns; it also illustrates how long experts have known about these issues. The AOA has been warning about the vision risks for students at least since 2007. This piece also touches on another unique aspect of children using computers: the inability of children to accurately identify or report physical discomfort, so they continue to work without adjustments, even if their vision gets blurry.

American Optometric Association: Computer Vision Syndrome Threatens Returning Students Aug 13, 2007 THE American Optometric Association (AOA) warned on Aug. 7 that children heading back to school are at risk for developing Computer Vision Syndrome, which leaves them vulnerable to problems like dry eye, eyestrain and fatigue. According to VSP Vision Care, nearly half of U.S. children spend four hours a day or more using computers or other portable electronic devices.

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