Minimize the Health Hazards of Technology
Technological devices can cause physical strains such as headaches and carpal tunnel syndrome. Children who use computers, laptops, mobile devices and video game systems are vulnerable to these problems, both because their bodies are still developing and because they may not notice the signs of overuse.
Fortunately, parents can take relatively simple steps to protect kids from the physical wear and tear associated with technology use. Help your kids establish good tech habits now to make it less likely they will have problems later. Pay attention to the following body parts.
Repetitive stress injuries occur when the same motion is repeated excessively, which often happens when playing video games. Encourage your child to develop a light touch to minimize stress on fingers. To prevent wrist strain, rest the device on a pillow, and position the keyboard at elbow height. Arms should hang loosely at the child’s sides, rather than being outstretched.
Slouching creates strain on a child’s back and neck. Whenever possible, encourage your child to do extended projects such as homework or lengthy gaming sessions at a work station designed to encourage neutral posture. Feet should rest on the floor (or on a box for younger children). The chair should provide support for the lower back (a rolled up towel may help). Screens should be at eye level. It may help to use a portable keyboard for tablets.
Computer vision syndrome won’t necessarily cause long-term damage to your child’s eyes, but it can result in fatigue, blurry vision and headaches. Show your child how to increase font size so devices can be held about 20 inches from the face. Reduce glare by adjusting screen position and, if necessary, adding an anti-glare filter. Keep screens and eye-glasses clean. To reduce eye irritation, encourage your child to look away from the screen every five or 10 minutes.
One in five American teens already has hearing loss caused by sound that is too loud. Set the volume for devices that have headphones, and tell young children that they need your permission to increase it. Instead of earbuds, provide headphones to block environmental sounds and avoid the need to turn up the volume. Try an app like Sound Meter for Apple products or Sound Meter for Android devices to offer a visual alert to kids when the volume is loud enough to damage hearing.
Although the research is inconclusive, many experts recommend that parents err on the side of caution when exposing children to the electromagnetic waves created by mobile devices. Dr. Devra Davis, author of Disconnect: The Truth About Cellphone Radiation, urges parents to discourage young children from using cellphones for anything but short conversations. Older children should use the speakerphone or a headset. Turn off Wi-Fi whenever it’s not in use, and keep phones and tablets out of the bedroom when your child is sleeping.
The best way to protect your child from the health issues associated with technology use is to encourage breaks — lots of them. Use a timer app or kitchen timer to force breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. Help your child become aware of the aches and pains that indicate bodily strain. Teach her simple exercises like shoulder rolls and yoga stretches, and have a stress ball available for soothing cramped hand muscles.
In the end, the very best way to get your child to develop healthy tech habits is to adopt them for yourself.
Carolyn Jabs, MA, raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs.