(CBS News) – When the pandemic shut down schools across the country, the idea was to protect children’s health. But the switch to remote learning means long hours in front of a computer. There are concerns about children’s eyesight.
Angie Oberholser has always put strict limits on her sons’ screen time, encouraging time outdoors and playing games. But when their school in Scottsdale, Arizona switched to remote learning, all bets were off. “When this all happened and they switched to online, I mean, they went to now being on a screen from eight to three,” Oberholser says.
She worries about how all that computer time will affect their vision. “I see so many kids at the school with glasses at young ages and I keep asking people, why are so many kids in glasses. And I keep getting the same answer, the screens, the screens,” Oberholser says.
In fact, the nation’s vision has been deteriorating for decades. According to optometrist Scott Edmonds, “The data from the 70s, when I started in practice, near-sightedness was about twenty five percent of the population. Today, it’s over 40 percent.”
Edmonds says parents can take steps to protect their children’s eyes, like making sure they’re at least 30 inches away from their screens. And he recommends following the 20 – 20 – 20 rule. “Every 20 minutes they should look away from the computer out into the distance at an object 20 feet or greater for 20 seconds.”
New York City is struggling to keep its public schools open, and across the country, millions of children are learning partly or totally online.
Staring at screens can also lead to fatigue and headaches and possible long-term effects from blue light radiating directly into the eyeball. “We’re concerned that the blue light can cause over a lifetime, can cause changes to the retina that would manifest as age related macular degeneration,” Edmonds says.
Oberholser puts blue light filters on the boys’ computers to limit the exposure, and makes sure when schoolwork is done, screen time is over.
Dr. Edmonds says for developing near-sightedness, the age group between 9 and 20 is most at risk.