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Home » What's New » Podcast Episode #16: Computer use and Kids

Podcast Episode #16: Computer use and Kids

BE PODCAST ARTWelcome to The Bright Eyes Podcast: Advice for Healthy Vision for All Ages. Your hosts are Dr. Nate Bonilla-Warford & Dr. Beth Knighton, residency-trained optometrist that provide eye exams for glasses and contacts, and specialty services including vision therapy, myopia control, orthokeratology, and sports vision training. Their mission to empower patients by providing the best in friendly, professional, and individualized eye care.

In this episode, Dr. Nate talks about the guide to reduce visual problems for e-learners and children who use desktop computers significantly.

You can listen in the player below or read the transcript. The show is available via StitcheriTunes, and the webplayer below. You can find all previous episodes here. If you have any questions or suggestions for future episodes, please email

Full Transcript: 


Welcome to the Bright Eyes podcast. Advice for healthy vision for all ages. Your hosts are doctor Nate Bonilla-Warford and Dr. Beth Knighton. Residency trained optometrist providing eye care to all ages with exams for glasses and contacts and specialty services including vision therapy, myopia control, Ortho-kertology and sports vision training. Their mission is to empower patients by providing the best in friendly, professional and individualized eyecare.

Dr. Nate

00:00:38: From rainy Tampa bay Florida. It's the Bright Eyes podcast. This is episode number 16. I'm Dr. Nate Bonilla-Warford and today's episode is all about children and computers, specifically children's vision and computers. Now, about seven years ago I wrote a blog post about my love hate relationship with Minecraft and the reason why I wrote that was because so many of my patients who are children were talking about Minecraft incessantly they would come in wearing Minecraft shirts and Minecraft shorts and Minecraft shoes. And because I was encountering it so often in the exam room, I checked it out and this is what I thought. Minecraft is great for stimulating community and creativity. It is very, very cool in that regard, but it can create a lot of eyestrain from hours and hours of computer use for kids and adults. So fast forward to 2021 and the COVID-19 pandemic is still an issue in our lives and many of our patients have been e learning, I have one child who's still learning at home, the other one has gone back to classroom school. But one thing I've noticed is even the kids who are in the classrooms are using computers and devices more than ever before. And this gives me a little bit of anxiety because I've spent the last 10 years trying to educate parents and educate children about the proper ways to use devices and computers to limit visual problems.

00:02:28: And starting about five years ago to you know, two or three years ago, I really started to see a lot of improvement in parents understanding that they do need to set screen time and digital device time limits and that was making a lot of a lot of progress. And so I was seeing a lot of progress in that regard and it was pretty fantastic. Well now with the pandemic, all of that is out the window. And so now I am talking about this all day every day with even more intensity so early on in the pandemic when most of my patients were doing either like virtual learning or relearning or home schooling or some version of that. I was looking around for a authoritative guide that had been put out by one of the organizations specifically to address the proper ways that children should use computers for e learning to limit visual strain and reduce the likelihood of visual problems. And as it turns out, I couldn't really find something that was exactly as comprehensive as what I was looking for. There was lots of different pieces of information out there, but they sort of weren't in any one place. So I spent quite a bit of time putting together a guide for e learners to reduce visual strain and vision problems. And what I figured out right away is it's really important this information for e learners, but so many children are using computers in the classroom. Like I said that it's not just for the learners. In fact, this information is really good for children of all ages who are in any sort of educational program because most of them do use computers on some level.

00:04:37: So what I'm going to do for this podcast is go over the guide that I wrote for the learners keeping in mind that is applicable to almost all children these days. Now, of course I'm going to put the link to the guide in the show notes, but you can find it right here at bright eyes Tampa dot com slash e dash learning dash guide. So let's dive right in. So why is this guide important? It's important for two reasons. Most people understand that children or adults who worked extensively at a computer for either their job or school are at risk for having different types of visual problems. And those problems can be eyestrain. They can be headaches, they could be blurred vision, they can have feeling of dry eyes, they could have uh neck or shoulder issues if their workstation isn't set up properly. And so those are all of the short term problems that children can have. However, there also are long term problems that children can have. There's a lot of discussion right now about the pandemic, causing a significant increase in myopia, which is the scientific term for nearsightedness. The reasons for that are complex. Some of them have to do with genetics and genetic susceptibility, but a lot of it has to do with staying indoors not leaving the house and using devices both for school and for recreation, like video games in Minecraft, but also for social time. It's very, very important for children to have social interaction with their their peers. And right now for many children that's not really possible. And so so using social media and playing games that are social, it is important for their well being. However, taken to excess, it can cause vision problems as well. So that's why we are talking about. All right, So what can you do, number one have the right set up. In the very beginning, parents were scrambling to have any sort of device they could so that children could have access to school, whether it was a laptop or an iPad or whatever. But in general when they're working at a computer for any length of time, whether it's for e learning at home or whether it's for homework at home or whether it's just for other use.

00:07:11: Here are some tips that can help you set up the children's workstation better. So as far as screens go, screens are so much better than they were back when I was a kid. Their larger they're flatter the lighting is better. It's just better in general in general, the bigger the screen the better. So if you have or can afford a larger screen it's easier for the eyes and for children, and if you have a larger screen, it allows you to select slightly larger magnification to make it easier to see small print. You want to position the screen so it's mostly straight ahead, so they don't have to position their head in a weird way to be able to see it. Chairs should be straight with back support. If they can't touch the ground, they should have a foot rest. You want to have some sort of natural lighting ideally near a window and it's nice to have a water cup so they can stay hydrated and try to keep it visually organized. So it doesn't get to distract posture is one of those things that's very, very important, but also very, very difficult to get kids to maintain. But as a general rule, the back should provide support. The feet should rest on the foot rest. Like I said, the chair shouldn't swivel or wiggle and they get to like fidgety and they shouldn't have to put their body in any particular odd position. And the risks should be neutral, not like flexed up and down.

00:08:37: So here's a question that I get every day, "Do children need computer glasses?" And it's not surprising that the answer is complicated. So there are lots of different reasons why we prescribe glasses for children. Sometimes they just can't see very clearly without their glasses. They might have nearsightedness that might have far sightedness, they might have astigmatism and so what we do is prescribe glasses to help them see clearly. And most people kind of understand that. However, there's a whole lot of other reasons why we might prescribe glasses. They might have binocular vision problems, meaning the eyes don't work well together or they might have focusing problems that their eyes don't accurately look at the screen. The auto focus system of their eyes, just like the auto focus system on your phone's camera might not be working very well. And so doctors like me or Dr. Beth or others might prescribe glasses specifically to help with the focusing problem to make the focusing more accurate and that can reduce symptoms like headaches and blurry vision. Also children may be able to focus visually on the screen perfectly fine for a while But after 10 or 15 minutes they start to get fatigued and sort of lose interest. And so the glasses can help sustain their visual attention if they have problems.

00:10:05: Sometimes the glasses need to be very special type of glasses with either something that's called prism or some other types of adaptations so that the glasses help them to see the computer as best they can. Now this is complicated because there are sometimes where we prescribe glasses for the computer that helps, but it actually makes distance vision blurrier. Adults are pretty good about, okay, I'm gonna sit down, I'm gonna work, I'm gonna put my glasses on and now I'm going to get up and I'm gonna walk around and take them off. Kids aren't so good at that. And so so it becomes a little bit complicated and so definitely take the advice from your doctor, your child's doctor about how glasses should be worn.

00:10:50: Now, another question that I get asked every single day is "What about blue light?" In the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 there was a huge surge in interest in blue light protection. And lots and lots of people were buying them on Amazon and they were kind of wearing them full time. And so I get I get this question a whole lot. And the truest answer about blue light protection is we don't fully know or understand. So it's hard to give people guidance because it's a newer topic. So here's the theory, devices emit light and some of that light can be harmful. Now we know that ultraviolet light from the sun is harmful and that's why our glasses and sunglasses have ultraviolet protection. But there's newer concern that the blue light from screens may be harmful. And this came out originally there was some, there was some scientific research where scientists in a lab bombarded some Petri dishes with different cells and noticed that if they used high intensity blue light, that those cells were damaged more quickly. And then that sort of sparked this whole concern like, oh my gosh, maybe all of this device use screens and computers were making us all go blind. Well after that was examined more closely, we realized that we get way more light from the sun and other sources than we do from screen. So there's really no concern about screen use causing people to go blind and therefore no reason to use blue light protection. However, there are some reasons why people might benefit from blue light protection.

00:12:39: One, there's absolutely research that shows that circadian rhythm, which is what helps us get to sleep at night, can be altered if you don't get enough blue light or if you get too much. And so that can be helpful. Blue light protection, especially towards the end of the day, can help people sleep better. There is some evidence or some reason to believe that blue light does cause eye strain. So that does help people feel a little bit more comfortable. But it's very specific. I don't think every single person needs blue light protection or blue light protection glasses, but some people really do benefit from it. So that's something that you can talk with your doctor about.

00:13:16: Now. We're at one of my favorite topics and that is visual hygiene. It sounds like you're washing your eyes, but it's not what it means is Taking breaks, making sure that your eyes can function normally. Now there's two different ways to approach this for a long, long time. There's been something called the 2020-20 rule And what that means is every 20 minutes look 20 ft away for 20 seconds. This lets the focus of the eyes relax. This is more to keep your eyes feeling good by taking the focus away from up close and looking at least 20 ft away. Even better if you can look out a window or even further that just sort of keeps your eyes kind of working. However, there's a new rule based on some scientific research that says it takes a full five minutes for the eyes to fully, fully, fully relax after spending time at the computer.

00:16:42: As technology advances and as the curriculum in school becomes even more technology based, whether it's iPads or whether it's computers, all of these issues are going to stay with us for a long time. And so it's helpful if we are able to make sure that our children have good habits so they can meet their needs. So as the work gets more visually demanding in school, they are able to adapt and succeed. Sometimes more than just ergonomics and glasses are necessary. Sometimes we have to do vision therapy to help children with problems that they either have or that they've developed. Sometimes we make referrals to occupational therapists or other sorts of doctors, so just continue to keep in mind that this is not an issue that's going to go away. So I hope any of that was helpful. I'm very excited about some of the upcoming episodes that we've got and I hope you have a wonderful day. Thanks!

Closing:  Brought to you by Bright Eyes family vision care and Bright Eyes Kids. Find previous episodes and more detailed information at Creative Commons copyright attribution noncommercial use. The only purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. There's no substitute for professional care by a doctor experienced in the area you require. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute a medical or other professional advice or services. Please consult your physician for diagnosis treatment.

Intro/outro music: Lucas Warford of Three For Silver.