Children’s Health in a Digital Age – do we need to worry? By Dr Kristy Goodwin
She’s the Director at Every Chance to Learn and an Honorary Associate At Macquarie university. Kristy’s a speaker who combines practical strategies with the latest research to empower time-poor parents and educators to make sense of this brave, new world in which they’re raising digital kids (without having to ban the iPad or switch off the TV).
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Today’s children often learn to tap, swipe and pinch before they’ve learnt to tie their shoelaces or ride a bike. They’re growing up in a world immersed in screens (no wonder they assume every screen is a touch screen!). They’re experiencing “digitalised childhoods”.
But what impact is their digitalised childhood having on their physical health and development? As parents and educators, do we need to worry?
Whether we love it or loathe it, technology’s here to stay. So we need to find healthy and helpful ways to use it with young children. They’ll inherit a digital world so it’s imperative that we teach them how to use technology in sustainable and appropriate ways (that don’t compromise or hamper their development).
Below are some simple things that parents and educators can do to ensure that young children form healthy technology habits from the start.
- Healthy Eyes
Anecdotal reports suggest that ophthalmologists are reporting increasing numbers of young children present with myopia (near-sightedness) because of premature introduction to screens and using screens too close to the eyes.
20-20-20-20 Rule- For every 20 minutes your child spends with a screen, encourage them to take at least a 20 second break, look at something 20 feet (around 6 metres) away and do something physical for 20 seconds (star jumps, stretch)
Blink More– We blink about 30% less than normal when we’re using a screen and as a result we often suffer with dry eyes after spending a long time working on a computer screen (it’s officially called “computer vision syndrome”- CSV). Children also suffer from CSV and its impact can be minimised by encouraging your children to blink more when using screens. This helps to lubricate the eyes and reduce the dryness often associated with screen time.
Children are spending increasing amounts of time hunched over digital devices, often with poor posture. Over time, this can cause muscoskeletal problems. So it’s essential that we teach our children correct postures when using digital devices.
Bring the Device to Eye Level- we want to encourage little ones to bring devices to their eye level and not their eyes to the device’s level. For example, when using a handheld game console, teach your child to position the game in front of their eyes. Often sitting against (not on) a loungechair enables children to easily do this.
Tummy Time– As many adults have observed little ones often naturally like to lie on their tummies when using touch screen technologies like the iPad. This is in fact, an ideal position for little ones to use mobile devices as it keeps their neck in a neutral position and allows their eyes to look down at the screen (minimising eye strain).
Teaching our little ones about healthy technology habits from the start will ensure that they’re equipped with the skills they need to flourish in the digital age. Incidental conversations and modelling the best habits ourselves (easier said than done sometimes) are the best ways to ensure our children form healthy media habits.
By Dr Kristy Goodwin