Managing Screen Time
“From my own experience, managing screen time is difficult. Whenever I spend too much time looking at a screen, I feel an increased tension in the eyes. Oddly enough it is much worse when I am working on something I don’t want to be! When this is combined with an increase in stress and anxiety levels, I find that my eyes become dry, irritated and blurry. I sought help from Bates Vision Education teacher, Lizzie May, who believes that many problems can be solved by relaxing the muscles of the eye. Here, Lizzie shares some tips for helping children (and of course their parents) to relax their eyes in front of a computer or tablet, and manage screen time.” Nathaniel McCullagh, Founder & Director of Simply Learning Tuition
What is the problem?
Children are now introduced to digital devices and therefore increased screen time at an early age. Bad habits with posture, and in the use of the eyes and mind can develop into all sorts of challenges later on, so how can we reduce the negative impacts of increased screen time?
Positioning of the screen and homework environment:
The place your children do their homework should be a fun place to be and see!
It is better to have a larger screen rather than that of a laptop to allow for the proper alignment of the back, neck, shoulders, rather than being huddled over a small device. If possible, place it in front of a window to allow your child to be able to look up and out. The screen should be so situated that the child is 30 to 60 cms away with the eyes centered above the middle of the screen.
If the device has to be placed in a corner, then affix a mirror above the screen to maximise focusing distance, or hang a particular favourite poster or painting above it.
Decorate the screen corners with brightly-coloured shapes to give interest to the eyes and mind. Place a favourite object to the side of the screen and(or) a plant (even if it is not real) to give a 3D dimension around the screen.
Working in daylight is of course the best option but otherwise a desk lamp with full spectrum light is a good idea. Ensure that the light is not in the direction of the sight when looking at the screen which can affect peripheral vision and cause mental tiredness. If your child is doing homework with hard copy, then a desk lamp with a flexible neck is great. Eliminate glare as much as possible.
Choose a hard-backed chair with a cushion if needed, to support the back, neck and head. Little feet should comfortably reach the floor – no leg dangling! Stools or yoga blocks for example can be used to support little legs.
Eye relaxation tips:
Remember to breathe: When a child becomes absorbed in something, breathing often becomes shallow and irregular and this can create tension and fatigue in the eyes, mind and body.
Remember to blink: Blink every 3 to 5 seconds to shift attention, produce a little moisture to the eyes and give the brain a mini rest.
Remember to look away every few minutes: Look away into the distance – through a window or into the mirror or poster above the screen so that the eyes are not fixed at one focal length.
Take a break every 15 minutes or so and move or run around: This keeps the eyes, body and mind invigorated!
Palming – a relaxation technique
Place the palms over the closed eyelids with cushions supporting the elbows on a table, and imagine something nice for a few minutes or so! This is a wonderful way to relax the eyes, mind and body. It can be enjoyed on waking up in the morning and before and after using the computer. It is great way to wind down in the evening while listening to a story. Enjoy a mini palm lying on the floor or sitting in a chair any time of the day, every day!
It is not the screen per se that is the culprit but the way in which it is used. Spending too much time in front of a screen can effect vision and hand-eye co-ordination. Looking at a screen uninterrupted can also disturb the act of fusion and balance of the eyes, especially when a child is very young. To help reduce the effects of screens on the eyes and manage screen time, children need lots of breaks to enjoy physical activity, particularly outdoors where they can develop co-ordination and spatial awareness skills.
By involving children in the management of screen time, including setting up their screen, workspace and reminders about what to do when using a screen, parents can help promote a happier, healthier and more relaxed child who enjoys seeing and being!