Avoid Health Hazards from Technology Use
Any adult who spends much time with technology knows it can cause physical strains. Children who use computers, laptops, mobile devices and video games also may be vulnerable to these problems. Fortunately, some relatively simple steps can help protect the moving parts your kids will need for the rest of their lives.
• Hands – Repetitive stress injuries occur when the same motion is repeated over and over. Encourage your child to develop a light, relaxed touch to minimize stress on fingers. To prevent wrist strain, have your child rest devices on a pillow, when possible, and position the keyboard at elbow height so her wrists are loose instead of flexed.
• Back – Slumping over a handheld device creates strain on a child’s back and neck. Encourage your child to use a work-station that promotes “neutral” posture for extended projects such as homework or even lengthy gaming sessions. Feet should rest on the floor (or a box for younger children). The chair should support the lower back (a rolled up towel may help). Screens should be at eye level.
• Eyes – Computer Vision Syndrome won’t necessarily cause long-term damage to your child’s eyes, but can result in fatigue, blurry vision and headaches. Reduce glare by adjusting the position of screens and, if necessary, adding an antireflective filter. Clean screens by wiping them gently with a soft, damp cloth. Kids in front of screens blink less often, so their eyes may become dry and irritated. Teach your child to shift his focus to something else every 5-10 minutes.
• Ears – One in five American teens already has hearing loss caused by extended exposure to sound — especially music — that is too loud. Set the volume for devices with headphones and tell young children they need your permission to make it any louder. Instead of earbuds, consider purchasing earphones that cover your child’s ears so there’s less need to increase volume to block out environmental sound. To make children more aware of sound levels, try installing an app like SoundMeter for Apple and Sound Meter for Android.
• Brain – Even though the research is inconclusive, many experts recommend caution when exposing children to the electromagnetic waves created by mobile devices. Limit young children to very short conversations on cellphones. Encourage older children to use the speakerphone or a headset. To find out how much radiation a particular phone routinely emits, check its specific absorption rate (SAR) level at reviews.cnet.com/cell-phone-radiation-levels.
Take other precautions that can also limit exposure to unnecessary radiation:
• Turn off Wi-Fi whenever it’s not in use or set the phone to airplane mode so it doesn’t emit a wireless signal.
• Avoid using the phone when reception is poor because the phone will emit more radiation trying to find a relay antenna.
• Keep phones and tablets out of the bedroom when your child is sleeping.
• If your child frequently uses a cellphone, consider enclosing it in a case that redirects radiation (like The Intelligent Case available from Pong at pongresearch.com).
The best way to protect your child from health issues associated with technology use is to encourage breaks — lots of them. Help your child become aware of the aches and pains that indicate overuse, and teach your child simple stress-reduction exercises like shoulder rolls and yoga stretches. All of this advice makes sense for adults as well as kids. Encourage healthy technology habits by adopting them yourself.
Carolyn Jabs raised three computer-savvy kids, including one with special needs. She has written about technology for more than 10 years.