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Are You Staring at Your Screen Too Much?

Sitting and looking at screens takes up such a large proportion of the average modern daily routine, that it’s hard to imagine or remember that life was ever any other way. To put things into a shocking perspective, research shows that kids spend an average of 7 hours a day looking at screens, and adults spend up to 11 hours on a standard working day! What with the rise of online schools and working from home, it’s no surprise that this is the average amount of time we spend before a screen.

There are certainly plenty of benefits which come with the technological advancements and our subsequent increasing reliance on using screens. For one, we have access to an infinite amount of information and knowledge, which when used wisely, can make for some incredible learning potential. We are able to make contact with pretty much anyone across the globe, no matter where they are, at the click of a button.

With this said, more research has been released showing the negative impacts of living our modern screen-heavy lifestyles. This article aims to inform you of the genuine risks of unconscious screen usage, so that you can make changes to protect yourself and your kids.

Addiction

No two addictions are the same, so addiction to screens is not the same as addiction to cigarettes, either in intensity or effect. However, the same reward pathways in the brain are involved, releasing dopamine. This feel-good hormone is part of the brain’s pleasure and reward circuits. Playing video games and going on social media turns on similar brain regions as those linked to cravings for drugs. Internet Addiction Disorder and Internet Gaming Disorder are both official diagnoses now in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), and app and game designers have openly admitted to intentionally making apps as addictive as possible.

Parents report feeling really stuck, because when they try and set boundaries to reduce their kid’s time using screens, they experience an aggressive meltdown similar to how a drug addict would lash out when going through withdrawal. Many choose to appease their kids and just allow them to continue, avoiding conflict. It certainly does not help that kids these days attend classes online as well.

A motivation for parents to bite the bullet and reduce screen time is that numerous clinicians and teachers are now reporting worrying symptoms in children which have been named as a condition called Electronic Screen Syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention or stop fidgeting, all of which likely negatively impact their mental health and academic grades.

Eye Strain And Vision Impairment

Ophthalmologists are seeing a dramatic increase in children with dry eyes, eye strain, headaches, and blurry vision, from too much screen time. A large cause of the issue comes from the fact that we blink half as much as our normal blink rate (approximately 15x a minute) when we use screens. The uncomfortable symptoms can persist and worsen over time. 

A more serious issue potentially linked to screen usage in kids is Myopia (nearsightedness). In Asia, up to 90% of teenagers and adults are nearsighted. It’s thought to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors that disrupt the normal development of the eye. Many speculate that looking at screens heavily from a young age can impact the eye’s normal growth, as they have to stare at it closely and have their eyes flooded with light.

Posture And Weight Gain

When staring at a screen, this likely means you are seated or reclining. We are leading increasingly less active lifestyles, which can cause metabolic disorders and weight gain. Many of us are also not conscious of our posture when we are sitting: is our back curved? Are our shoulders hunched over? Spending time in these body positions can cause permanent bone structural changes (heightened if we are still growing), leading to a plethora of body aches.

Some individuals started experiencing excruciating migraines and neck pain in their early twenties. One even reported that they had an x-ray which showed that their neck had an abnormal curve, causing the higher vertebrae in their spine to put pressure on their occipital region, trapping the nerves. Bad habits due to posture can lead to long-term damages that need years of consistent physiotherapy and yoga to fix.

Solutions

In reality, it’s highly unrealistic for us to expect someone to stop using screens altogether, given they are such an integral part of modern life. Therefore, here are some tips for reducing their negative impact:

  • If you do have to look at a screen for long hours, Ophthalmologists suggest the “20-20-20” rule to reduce eye strain symptoms: every 20 minutes, shift your eyes to look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.  Taking regular breaks is important for resting the eyes, blinking, and limiting eye strain. Set a timer and encourage your kids to take gaps (potentially by creating a distraction).
  • Avoid using a computer outside or in brightly lit areas, as the glare on the screen can create strain.
  • Adjust the brightness and contrast of your computer screen so that it feels comfortable to you.
  • Buy glasses which reflect the blue light and reduce radiation. Some people claim that blocking blue light helps eye strain and headaches. Blue light is also known to mess with sleep schedules, so you’ll be finding it easier to fall asleep too.
  • To maintain good posture when sitting, it is recommended to purchase a laptop stand to keep your device at eye level, and sit in a high quality office chair which supports your spine (or at least prop yourself upright with plenty of cushions). Keep reminding your kids to be aware of their own posture, by touching their back when you walk by and compassionately saying “How are we sitting?”.
  • Encourage your child to hold digital devices farther away from their eyes; 18 to 24 inches is ideal, as this is expected to help prevent shortsightedness.
  • If you experience dry eyes, consider having a humidifier in the room or close to your computer, or use artificial tears. These are moisturizing drops for the eyes, sold over the counter at the pharmacy.

Screens are ubiquitous, as we rely on them more and more to get everything done. However, building up good habits to minimise the damage we receive from screen time is sure to improve our overall health. Moderation and regulation are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.