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Protect Your Kids From Harmful Effects of Screen Overuse

Excessive use of digital screens is damaging kids’ health, reports Healthline. An American Optometric Association survey found that 66 percent of children own smartphones or tablets, and 41 percent spend at least three hours a day on digital devices. Overuse of these devices accompanies a host of health problems, including eye strain, itchy eyes, headaches, neck and back pain and increased risk of macular degeneration later in life. The American Academy of Pediatrics had previously issued similar warnings about the impact of excessive media on young children, recommending that children under the age of 2 should be kept away from TV screens as much as possible. To protect children of all ages from the potential health risks of digital screen exposure, here are some issues to be aware of and preventative steps to take.

Posture Problems

A Simplyhealth survey found that 84 percent of young adults in Britain ages 18 to 24 suffer from back pain. Experts attribute this to poor posture while using smartphones and computers, a condition dubbed “iPosture.” Spinal surgeon Kenneth Hansraj estimates the average person spends 700 to 1,400 hours a year hunched over, a number which may rise to as much as 5,000 hours a year for some high school students. Furthermore, the head normally weighs 10 to 12 pounds in an upright position, but as the head tilts forward, it adds stress to the neck of up to 60 pounds at 60 degrees. This can cause early wear and tear, degeneration and possibly surgery, Hansraj warns.

To prevent this, children and adults should reduce the amount of time they spend hunched over and use a neutral posture when viewing screens. Children over two should not use screens more than one to two hours a day. Tops of screens should be positioned at or just below eye level. Chairs should be close to keyboards and mouse pads to avoid straining the shoulder, elbow and wrists. Feet should be flat on the floor or placed on a raised surface. For shorter children, placing a pillow under the elbows or feet can help with making adjustments to the correct position.

Eye Damage

One of the biggest emerging concerns experts have about screen overuse is the long-term risk of eye damage posed by excess exposure to blue light, which has a wavelength close to UV rays. The American Optometric Association warns that overexposure to blue light can increase the risk of macular degeneration later in life. In addition, staring at screens too much can cause short-term eye strain and associated problems, such as dry eyes and headaches.

To address these problems, the AOA recommends taking preventive steps. To reduce blue light exposure, teach children to follow the 20-20-20 rule: take a break from the screen every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Ask your children’s optometrist about lens options such as non-glare, filtered lenses. You can also protect your children’s eyes by using blue light filter screen protectors for mobile devices such as the iPhone 6.

Poor Sleep Patterns

Excessive blue light can disrupt sleep patterns. Blue light suppresses the hormone melatonin, which helps the body stay on a natural sleep cycle. This can make your body think it’s time to get up when it’s really time to go to bed. A study published in Pediatrics of fourth through seventh graders found that children who spent more time using screens or slept near a screen were more likely to get insufficient rest. To prevent problems, keep screens out of children’s bedrooms, and do not allow screen use before bedtime.

Obesity

Screen overuse can also increase the risk of obesity, claims the National Institutes of Health. Screen time takes away from exercise time, exposes children to ads that influence unhealthy diet habits and promotes snacking while viewing. To prevent obesity, the CDC recommends that children should get one hour or more of physical activity per day.

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