haven magazine chatted to Varsity Lakes optometrist Meredith Graham about increased digital usage and how screen time is doing more damage to our kids’ eyes than we think.
Way back when TVs dominated the digital scene, the threat of getting “square eyes” was enough to scare kids off the couch and out into the big wide world. These days, with screens smaller and more mobile than ever, it can take punishment or bribery to get kids to look up from their iPads, iPods and iPhones.
Harmony Vision Care optometrist Meredith Graham says a child doesn’t have to complain about headaches or watery eyes to have vision problems. In fact, Meredith says kids are unlikely to complain about the symptoms of eyestrain or short sightedness when caused by their devices, because they find the devices intrinsically rewarding.
“They enjoy screentime so they don’t complain or show symptoms while using the device,” she says. “It’s when they’re doing other less enjoyable activities like exercise or homework that they will show symptoms.”
And these symptoms can range from a shorter attention span or poor comprehension to loss of fine motor control, like the ability to hold a pencil. Smaller screens demand more focus and when the muscles in the eyes work harder for an extended period of time the risk of eyestrain, short sightedness and myopia increase.
“Because the screens that we look at are so small, our eyes aren’t able to get the proper range of movement,” Meredith says. “When a child goes into a classroom and isn’t used to such a large, three-dimensional source, it’s likely that they will lack concentration, coordination and communication skills.”
She added that interacting with the world – through sight, touch and even taste – is a major part of development that just isn’t being achieved through screens. As children age their eyes become the dominant processors of information, but they can’t do their job without plenty of stimulation.
“Our eyes are like any other muscle. They were designed to be dynamic, not static,” Meredith says. “You just can’t supplement 2D stimulation for the real, 3D world.
“It’s all about striking a balance. As a rule we say 10 minutes of daily screen time for each year of life and we emphasise regular breaks – look up, look away, have a stretch. Once the process of short sightedness or myopia starts, it can’t be stopped.”
Words // Anny White