American Optometric Association
243 N. Lindbergh Blvd.
St. Louis, MO 63141
(314) 991-4100, Fax: (314) 991-4101
When first introduced, computers were almost exclusively used by adults. Today,
children increasingly use these devices both for education and recreation. Millions of
children use computers on a daily basis at school and at home.
Children can experience many of the same symptoms related to computer use as adults.
Extensive viewing of the computer screen can lead to eye discomfort, fatigue, blurred
vision and headaches. However, some unique aspects of how children use computers may make
them more susceptible than adults to the development of these problems.
- Children often have a limited degree of self-awareness. Many children
keep performing an enjoyable task with great concentration until near exhaustion (e.g.,
playing video games for hours with little, if any, breaks). Prolonged activity without a
significant break can casuse eye focusing (accommodative) problems and eye irritation.
Accommodative problems may occur as a result of the eyes' focusing system "locking
in" to a particular target and viewing distance. In some cases, this may cause the
eyes to be unable to smoothly and easily focus on a particular object, even long after the
original work is completed.
Eye irritation may occur because of poor tearflow over the eye due to reduced blinking.
Blinking is often inhibited by concentration and staring at a computer or video screen.
Compounding this, computers usually are located higher in the field of view than
traditional paperowk. This results in the upper eyelids being retracted to a greater
extent. Therefore, the eye tends to experience more than the normal amount of of tear
evaporation resulint in dryness and irritation.
- Children are very adapatable. Although there are many positive aspects
to their adaptability, children frequently ignore problems that would be addressed by
adults. A child who is viewing a computer screen with a large amount of glare often will
not think about changing the computer arrangement or the surroundings to achieve more
comfortable viewing. This can result in excessive eye strain. Also, children often accept
blurred vision caused by nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism because they
think everyone sees the way they do. Uncorrected farsightedness can cause eye strain, even
when clear vision can be maintained.
- Children are not the same size as adults. Since children are smaller,
computers don't fit them well. Most computer workstations are arranged for adult use.
Therefore, a child using a computer on a typical office desk often must look up further
than an adult. Since the most efficient viewing angle is slightly downward about 15
degrees, problems using the eyes together can occur. In additon, children may have
difficulty reaching the keyboard or placing their feet on the floor, causing arm, neck, or
- Children often use computers in a home or classroom with less than optimum
lighting. The lighting level for the proper use of a computer is about half as
bright as that normally found in a classroom. Increased light levels can contribute to
excessive glare and problems associated with adjustments of the eye to different levels of
Steps to Visually-Friendly Computer Use
Here are some things to consider for children using a computer:
- Have the child's vision checked. This will make sure that the child can
see clearly and comfortably and can detect any hidden conditions that may contribute to
eye strain. When necessary, glasses, contact lenses or vision therapy can provide clear,
comfortable vision, not just for using the computer, but for all other aspects of daily
- Strictly enforce the amount of time that a child can continuously use the
computer. A ten-minute break every hour will minimize the development of eye
focusing problems and eye irritation caused by improper blinking.
- Carefully check the height and arrangement of the computer. The child's
size should determine how the monitor and keyboard are positioned. In many situations, the
computer monitor will be too high in the child's field of view, the chair too low and the
desk too high. A good solution to many of these problems is an adjustable chair that can
be raised for the child's comfort, since it is usually difficult to lower the computer
monitor. A foot stool may be necessary to support the child's feet
- Carefully check the lighting for glare on the computer screen. Windows
or other light sources should not be directly visible when sitting in front of the
monitor. When this occurs, the desk or computer may be turned to prevent glare on the
screen. sometimes glare is less obvious. In this case, holding a small mirror flat against
the screen can be a useful way to look for light sources that are reflection off of the
screen from above or behind. If a light source can be seen in the mirror, the offending
light should be moved or blocked from hitting the screen with a cardboard hood (a baffle)
attached to the top of the monitor. In addition, the American Optometric Association has
evaluated and accepted a number of glare screens that can be added to a computer to reduce
glare. Look for the AOA Seal of Acceptance when purchasing a glare reduction filter.
- Reduce the amount of lighting in the room to match the computer screen. Often
this is very simple in the home. In some cases, a smaller light can be substituted for the
bright overhead light or a dimmer switch can be installed to give flexible control of room
lighting. In other cases, a three-way bulb can be turned onto its lowest setting.
Children have different needs to comfortably use a computer. A small amount of effort
can help reinforce appropriate viewing habits and assure comfortable and enjoyable
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