The future’s so bright, you’ll have to wear glasses

Many parents consider the impact technology is having on the way their children see the world, with little thought to the way their children actually see. 

Erica Yetman

Research has shown a rise in vision problems, such as computer vision syndrome due to overuse of computer screens, cell phones and tablets, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists.

As support grows for in-class technology use, it could be turning the next generation into a group of chronic squinters.

“We definitely noticed that there’s an increase in myopia (nearsightedness),” said St. John’s optometrist Lisa Hounsell. She has been working in the industry for nearly 15 years, and says there’s been an increase in children coming for eye care.

“That is thought to be because of increased near work, which includes screens and handheld devices like phones and iPods,” she said.

Optometrists are noticing an increase in children with vision issues. Research is showing they could be linked to prolonged cell phone and tablet use. Erica Yetman/Kicker

Computer vision syndrome, or digital eye strain, can develop when people overuse digital screens, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists.

Digital eye strain can cause dry eyes, headaches, blurred vision and eye strain, due in part to a reduction in blinking when staring at a digital screen. According to the association, people blink 16 to 20 times a minute, but as few as six to eight times when looking at a cell phone or tablet.

“We definitely see more kids with glasses these days, but some of that is also due to the fact that children are just getting their eyes tested more regularly… people have come to realize how important regular eye exams are for kids,” Hounsell said.

Optometrists believe the blue light emitted from electronic screens could be the culprit, according to Hounsell. Research trends indicate it may have negative effects, especially on children. However, there’s no real evidence at this time as to what exactly the long-term effects are.

Some optometrists believe children who are spending any amount of time in front of screens should wear blue light reflecting glasses, even if they don’t need a prescription.

With technology being phased into the classrooms more and more each day and the use of personal devices, screen time has increased drastically.

Karen Adams has been teaching elementary level children for 23 years and is currently a teacher at Goulds Elementary. She says she has witnessed first-hand the changing of curriculum to incorporate technology in the classroom.

“They want teachers to use technology for assessments,” said Adams. “They want us to be able to teach the kids to use different programs like Keynote or iMovie for presentations and stuff … to adopt technology in that sense, so the kids are using it.”

Adams stressed that while every classroom is different, some days students are using tablets or computers for up to two hours a day. And that, she said, is only the classroom.

“They’re using it at home,” said Adams. “It’s their world, it’s what they grow up with … Technology is great but everything needs to be in moderation.”