IMG_9848_editDr. Barry Shealy

Our local TV station, WMAZ, recently asked me about screen time in schools causing vision problems in young children. In recent years, some areas of the world have seen an increase in childhood vision problems. In response, the American Optometric Association introduced their 20/20/20 campaign last year. The AOA recommends that after 20 minutes of close-up screen time, you look away for 20 seconds at an object that is at least 20 feet away. Students should develop this habit especially if they participate in extended gaming or video streaming with a tablet or smartphone.

In school, well-designed educational activities generally do not have students staring at a close-up screen for an extended period of time. Recent research by the London School of Economics suggests that rather than simply looking at screen time, we should consider the nature of the activity involving the screen. Carefully planning the context of the activity, the content accessed through the screen, and the connections or interactions taking place around the screen make for a healthier use of the devices. This type of carefully planned activity is what we promote at FPD. And of course, interaction with technology, while a valuable and effective educational tool, is only one of many essential experiences used to help students grow.

A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association raises a related but broader issue. (A concern that any outdoor enthusiast like me would have!) This study and others have connected increased incidence of childhood vision problems with decreased outdoor activity. The researchers found that adding 40 minutes of outdoor activity for a group of first graders was related to a lower rate of vision problems.

At FPD school use of tablets is designed to both take advantage of the great educational benefits and avoid the negative health concerns. Balance is important in every part of life and is an issue both at home and school. Students who participate in extended close-up screen time should follow the AOA’s 20/20/20 advice. And, in my opinion, children also need to get outside and play and explore. I know that some are looking for virtual “pocket monsters” – Pokemon. I would like to see how many different real “pocket monsters” like butterflies, dragonflies, birds, lizards and so forth they can find. Maybe they can spot a planet or even a meteor. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1) – now there’s something that extends more than 20 feet away to focus on!