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strategies for kids
By Jane Doucet
IF YOUR CHILDREN seem to spend more
time staring at a monitor each day than, well,
doing pretty much anything else, they’re not
alone. According to a recent survey by the
Pew Internet & American Life Project, 94
percent of U.S. families with children have a
computer at home. Recommendations are
that total daily screen time for children and
adolescents should not be more than two
hours; however, according to the American
Academy of Pediatrics (
than 20 percent of students in grades six to 10
were meeting those guidelines.
So what’s the problem with that? Staring
at screens for long stretches can lead to posture problems, vision trouble and obesity.
Other complaints include back, neck and
shoulder pain and dry, blurry, sore eyes and
headaches. The good news: The problems are
preventable. Here are some guidelines.
Learn perfect posture. “Slouching or sitting cross-legged in the computer chair can
lead to a stiff neck, back and shoulders,” says
Margot Miller, a physical therapist in Duluth,
Minnesota, and a spokesperson for the
American Physical Therapy Association.
Good posture includes putting feet flat on the
floor, looking straight ahead at the monitor
and keeping shoulders and arms relaxed.
Aim for ergonomic harmony. Muscle
aches and pains may develop if the computer
chair, desk, monitor and keyboard are not
positioned appropriately. “Home use can be
more problematic, because kids are usually
using an adult-size keyboard and mouse,”
says Miller. More compact computer equipment will help prevent cramping and stiffness
in small fingers, wrists and hands.
Stretch regularly. “Kids and teens often
don’t notice when their body feels uncomfortable because they’re so focused on their computer work,” says Miller. She advises parents
and teachers to teach children as early as possible the importance of stretching. “Shrugging
the shoulders or doing shoulder rolls while
sitting in the computer chair will help relax
muscles and increase circulation,” says Miller.
“But the best form of pain prevention is to get
up for a few minutes every so often to get a
glass of water or a piece of fruit.”
Take frequent eye breaks. Studies show
that people need to rest their eyes to keep
them moist, so encourage kids to adopt the
20-20-20 rule. “At least every 20 minutes, take
a 20-second break and view something 20 feet
away,” says James Sheedy, O.D., a professor of
optometry at Pacific University College of
Optometry in Forest Grove, Oregon. Kids
should take a 15-minute break for every two
hours of computer time.
Don’t forget to blink. People tend to blink
less often when viewing a computer screen.
“Blinking is a natural way to help rewet the
eyes and prevent dryness and irritation,” says
Sheedy. To help ease eyes, room lighting
shouldn’t reflect on the computer screen, and
an antireflective coating on eyeglasses will help
to reduce discomfort from glare.
With the proper practices in place as
another school year kicks off, it’s possible for
kids to spend time on the computer doing
homework and connecting with friends free
of aches, pains and eye problems. C
Jane Doucet is a writer and editor based in
Halifax, Nova Scotia.
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