Do you know how much time you spend using your electronic devices for leisure use? Many people, including myself and my husband, find ourselves getting lost in our cell phones or tablets, when looking for a way to unwind or relax for a little bit. Every time I hear a ping or sound on my phone notifying me a new email has arrived or a message or comment has posted to a social media channel, I am itching to grab my phone and check it out. But, you know you are spending too much time with your electronic devices when your youngest one tries to hide your phone so you will spend time with them.
This happened to my husband the other evening after he arrived home from work. Usually while I prepare dinner, my husband will play around with his cell phone checking the news of the stay and final stock numbers. The girls are usually playing a game, or watching a show, waiting for the food to be done. But, on this given day, Bella wanted Daddy to play with a new toy Papa had brought them. He was too engulfed in her phone to realize she was walking back and forth showing him pieces to the game, so that he could help her put it together and play. When he got up to take the dogs out, Bella snatched up his phone and hid it. The phone didn't appear until a few hours later, at which time my husband was starting his electronic device withdrawals. Bella told him that she hid it so that he would play with her. This statement made me husband not only wake up to how much unnecessary time he spends online when he could be enjoying time with the girls, but also reminded him of a similar question the local optometrist asked us about the girls and my niece and nephew last week when we took them for their annual eye exams.
The optometrist asked the kids and then us how much time they spend online. My nephew and niece both said about 3 hours, which we thought was a lot and not accurate, but after monitoring their online usage these past few days, I have to say that they were right. We have seen a drop in the times Savannah and Bella are asking to use the iPad or our phones, as they are getting back into puzzles and other non-electronic games which is great.
When I read a recent statistic about children's electronic device usage, I was shocked at first, but then could see how the percentage could be so high.
According to a recent AOA survey, "83 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 estimate they use an electronic device for three or more hours each day. However, a separate AOA survey of parents revealed that only 40 percent of parents believe their children use an electronic device for that same amount of time."
Just like when the optometrist asked us how many hours the kids were actually using electronic devices, I was oblivious to the actual amount of time spent, until I started to monitor it. So, I can see how 40% of parents believe their kids are using electronic devices for 3 or more hours a day.
When it comes to kids spending too much time with their electronic devices, I feel this is a case of monkey see, monkey do. Last year, my family took a pledge to turn off electronic devices and spend quality time together throughout the week. Prior to taking this pledge, I took snapshots of the whole family at different times of the day. While I was online doing work, the girls were watching movies with their iPads. And, when Daddy came home from work, they would be playing games or using educational apps on the iPad or my cell phone, while my husband was on his phone. We always seemed to have our faces buried in our electronic devices. Sound familiar?
Not only is it startling to hear and then witness firsthand just how much time our children are spending using electronic devices, but optometrists are also concerned as they are seeing more and more vision problems, including digital eye strain in children, due to their excessive technology use.
Do you know the signs of digital eye strain? Have your children been complaining or showing the following symptoms:
1. Burning, itchy or tired eyes after using an electronic device for an extended period of time
4. Loss of focus
5. Blurred vision
6. Double vision
7. Head and Neck pain
The above symptoms are not to be overlooked, and should be addressed immediately, as to not prevent serious vision problems that can't be corrected.
Summer has been a crazy time for everyone. Whether kids have been off at camp, or spending time with friends, while you have worked, or tried to find things to keep them busy. If you really sat down and thought about the amount of time they spend using electronic devices, you will be surprised.
Don't wait until you take the kids to the eye doctor for their annual vision exam to find out that they are suffering from digital eye strain or something worse.. Eye health is important, especially in children and teens, and should not be overlooked. Now that you know the signs/symptoms of digital eye strain, make a point take healthy steps to prevent or reduce the risk that your child(ren) may experience this by taking the following steps to protecting their eyes (and yours):
1. Take frequent visual breaks to let your eyes rest and refocus to the natural light around you.
Did you know that everyday electronic devices give off high energy, short-wave length blue and violent light. These rays may affect and even age our eyes, contributing to eye strain, or more serious eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration or even blindness.
Eye health is serious business and should be taken seriously. Now is a good as time as any to really look at your family's electronic device usage and make necessary changes to limit time spent connected or your head down looking at the harmful light and give your eyes a rest. You and your child(ren) can do this by following the 20-20-20 rule, which is to take a 20-second break for every 20-minutes spent online, while viewing something 20 feet or more away. This will let your eyes rest and refocus, which based on statistics, we all need, especially our children.
2. Check the glare on your screen and use protective films to reduce glare. You can also adjust the brightness of the screen or changing the background color, too.
3. Adjust font size -- If you find yourself squinting to read words, why not increase the font size so that things are easier to read? Your eyes will not be strained or grow tired quickly, as you will finally be able to focus and read text with ease.
4. Keep blinking -- This is one thing I remember the eye doctor telling me back in high school, when I found out I was far sighted and needed glasses. He said that because I was sitting at a computer most of the day at school and then at my after-school job that I was developing dry eye. I had tried to mask this problem by using eye drops, but found over time that the drops didn't bring relief. The eye doctor shared how blinking frequently helps keep the front of your eye surface wet, thus reducing eye strain. I make a point to blink frequently, even when taking breaks, to keep my eyes well lubricated.
5. Use correct lighting in the room you are working in -- Make sure a room that you are using electronic devices is lit well. During the day time, open the curtains to let in natural light. And, at night time, use softer light will lessen glare on screens and better match the lighting of the computer screen.
The above are just a few eye health tips for those who find themselves reaching for electronic devices throughout the day. Both kids and adults need to take their eye health seriously. And, hopefully with the sharing of this post and the recent AOA survey reports above excessive electronic device usage among children and parent's lack of usage knowledge, will spark important conversations in your house about the need to unplug, not just to reconnect as a family, but also to prevent digital eye strain and other eye problems, that could be avoided.
To learn more about eye health, especially for children, as well as read about the importance of annual back-to-school eye exams, visit www.aoa.org. You will also be able to do a local search here, to help find local optometrists in your area, so that you can schedule your child's back to school eye exams, and thus take a necessary step in helping to protect their vision.
"The AOA recommends every child have an eye exam by an optometrist soon after six months of age, before age three and every year thereafter. Children now have the benefit of yearly comprehensive eye exams thanks to the Pediatric Essential Health Benefit in the Affordable Act, through age 18."
I know it may be hard to just yank electronic devices from your child in hopes to curve the amount of time spent with them. So, why not start by showing your kids that you can put down your phones or tablets and spend quality time with them, talking about their day or upcoming weekend plans. Also, show your children that you are also following the 20-20-20 rule. Little by little, they will want to follow suit and find themselves using their electronic devices less and less.
Don't your eyes deserve a break? Avoid digital eye strain by limiting technology use and getting annual eye exams to make sure your eyes are healthy. And, with kids gearing up for back to school, why not use this time to get them away from their electronic gadgets, and into the eye doctor's office for an eye check?
AOA website: www.AOA.org
AOA Twitter: https://twitter.com/AOAConnectAOA Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/American.Optometric.Association/timeline
Disclosure: I participated in an Influencer Activation on behalf of Mom Central Consulting (#MC) for the American Optometric Association. I received a promotional item to thank me for my participation.