Are Digital Devices Damaging Our Kids?

By Lisa Cline January 8, 2017
When we were kids, our parents said our eyes would go “square” if we watched too much tv. Silly as it seemed, there are warnings to share with kids about too much screen time. 

One Maryland mom, Cindy Eckard, has been advocating for screen safety in public schools, and is urging lawmakers to regulate digital devices for students. Medical professionals and parents around the country are joining in that effort; a bill will be introduced to the Maryland General Assembly in the coming weeks. 

The bill seeks to protect kids from the following digital device-related health risks:

1.Increased, irreversible myopia
Because long-term fixed distance viewing is very well known to promote nearsightedness, the pre-teen and teenage developmental precondition for myopia is being exacerbated when middle school kids are required to stare at a computer for excessive periods of time. 10 - 15 year-old children are already prone to myopia; it's the shape their eyes are taking at this stage in their physical development.

2. Retinal damage and premature macular degeneration
The UV blue light emissions that damage the back of our eyes are better able to penetrate children's eyes because the kids are not blinking, and because a child's eye doesn't have the necessary pigmentation to protect against the blue light. So the child is literally staring into a computer with damaging blue light penetrating right to the back of his eye.

3. Digital eye strain and musculoskeletal discomforts
Experts in children's health are quick to point out that children are not just small adults. When using digital devices, kids are often unaware of the discomfort they are experiencing and do not correct their posture or take a break when their eyes get dry or blurry.  They suffer more than adults, and don't do anything about it.

4. Sleeplessness and its damaging side effects
Because so much work is done on a computer at school, most homework and studying also has to take place on a computer in the evening. This is especially problematic for our kids because the blue light from the digital devices suppresses a hormone called melatonin, which is necessary for sleep. Our kids are now being deprived of sleep because of the schools' constant reliance on computers, which brings a host of additional serious health risks to our children. Some kids are actually being misdiagnosed with ADHD, when the truth is, they're just exhausted.

5. Increased propensity for psychological issues
The constant use of digital devices is emerging as a psychological problem for many young people whose reliance on virtual experiences is replacing actual interaction with friends and family. Some experts, such as Dr. Nicholas Kardaras, are suggesting that digital devices are not only addictive, but lead to additional problems for young children such as depression, anxiety, pornography use and gambling. UCLA research has shown that children are losing their ability recognize emotional expressions in other people's faces.

What can we do to protect our kids? 
• Buy blue light filters for all your child’s devices. They are easy to affix and are relatively affordable. Be sure to look for those that block 100% of blue light.
• Encourage kids to look away or walk away every 20 minutes or so. 
• Educate your child about the risks.
• Support legislation that determines medical guidelines for safe use of digital devices in Maryland classrooms. Contact your elected officials to share your concern and support.