In the past decade, computer use among children has become pervasive.
1. 94 percent of American families with children have a computer in the home with access to the Internet.
2. The amount of time children ages 8 to 18 devote to entertainment media (including computer and video games) each day has increased from 6.19 hours in 1999 to 7.38 hours in 2009.
In 2009, 29 percent of American children ages 8 to 18 had their own laptop computer, and kids in grades 7 through 12 reported spending an average of more than 90 minutes a day sending or receiving texts on their cell phones.
Many pediatric eye doctors believe that heavy computer use among children puts them at risk for early myopia. Recent research appears to confirm that fear. The prevalence of nearsightedness among Americans has increased from 25 percent to 41.6 percent of the population over the past 30 years — an increase of more than 66 percent.
Have your child's vision checked. Before starting school, every child should have a comprehensive eye exam, including near-point (computer and reading) and distance testing.
1. Limit the amount of time your child spends at the computer without a break. Encourage kids to take 20-second breaks from the computer every 20 minutes to minimize the development of eye focusing problems and eye irritation. (Some eye doctors call this the "20-20 rule.")
2. Check the ergonomics of the workstation. For young and small children, make sure the computer workstation is adjusted to their body size. The recommended distance between the monitor and the eye for children is 18 to 28 inches. Viewing the computer screen closer than 18 inches can strain the eyes. [Read more tips for reducing computer eye strain.
3. Check the lighting. To reduce glare, windows and other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of the monitor. Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen.
In addition to the risk of computer vision syndrome, there is concern that excessive computer use during childhood may have adverse effects on a child's physical development.
Guidelines for parents to help their children attain appropriate physical development:
1. Encourage a mix of tasks throughout the day. Children should take frequent breaks from computer use and to take part in a variety of activities that involve postural changes and physical movement. Performing sedentary tasks using electronic media (computer use, watching TV, texting, etc.) should be limited to less than two hours per day.
2. Encourage the use of proper postures when working at a desktop computer. Workstations should be designed to suit the child's size and enable a range of suitable postures. Among other suggestions: Feet should be able to rest comfortably on the floor; desk height should at elbow height; document holders should be used to position paper materials near the computer screen; the top of the computer screen should be at eye level; the screen should be positioned and angled to avoid glare.
3. Encourage appropriate behaviors when using and transporting notebook computers, including using appropriate alternative postures for variety and using a backpack with dual shoulder straps for carrying the computer to and from classes.
4. Teach your child computing skills, including how to touch-type with minimum force and how to use keyboard shortcuts to reduce mouse use.
5. Teach your child to respond appropriately to discomfort during computer use, including taking more frequent breaks and, if symptoms persist, seeking advice from a health care professional.