In these Covid-19 times, with lockdown in most places, schools are forced to shift from classroom to online teaching. Classes are conducted through virtual platforms. Homework has become digital. Children are required to spend long hours indoors, focussing on their mobile phone, iPad or laptop. This raises many concerns regarding their long-term health. Dr Ramesh Kekunnaya, Head, Child Sight Institute, L V Prasad Eye Institute, Hyderabad.
The amount of time the child spends using digital devices should be proportionate to the child’s age. While 12 to 16-year-old can be allowed eight hours of online study, the hours of screen time for younger children should be restricted to less than four hours. Toddlers (younger than three years) must not be using any digital device. Parents must themselves set a good example by staying away from mobile phones and TV as much as possible. They can also develop ‘quality family time’, encouraging children to interact, play games and connect with family members during leisure time. It should be emphasised that use of electronic gadgets is only during classes and for learning. Children must be taught to accept and acclimatize to these new practices and to follow them effectively.
Teachers must give appropriate breaks during classes; a short break every 45 minutes and a long break of 1-2 hours during long sessions. Online classes should be scheduled in the morning and afternoon hours only, ensuring that children do not use these devices in the evening and night time. Reduce screen time by assigning at least one session of physical exercise, yoga, dance class or virtual workout to students. This will be fun as well as healthy for children. For homework, they should be encouraged to use their text books and notebooks and avoid all digital devices.
Sit on a straight-backed chair with arm rests, with the screen placed about two feet away at eye level. This ensures good posture and avoids back and neck problems in future. Larger screen devices like desktop, laptop or TV are preferable. Room lighting should be good and screen brightness should be optimum. Screen protectors can be used to reduce excessive reflection.
There should be good ventilation in the room. Sitting for long hours directly in front of the fan or air conditioning can cause the eyes to dry up quickly. This adds to the strain. They should be encouraged to consciously blink frequently. An easy method to follow is the 20-20-20 rule, where every 20 minutes, the child should take a 20 second break and look at any object 20 feet away. This will relax the ciliary muscles of the eyes and ease the strain due to prolonged near work. At times, preservative-free lubricating eye drops can be used to ease mild symptoms of dry eye.