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Back to School - Children Eyes and Computers

Kids and computers are nearly inseparable these days. With many school-age kids and even preschoolers spending hours in front of a computer every day, it's worth considering what effects computers might have on your children's eyes and their vision.

Recent research suggests computer use among preschool children may actually improve their readiness for school and academic achievement.

In one study of 122 preschoolers enrolled in a rural Head Start program*, children in the experimental group were given the opportunity to work on a computer for 15-20 minutes per day with their choice of developmentally appropriate educational software, while the kids in the control (non-computer) group received a standard Head Start curriculum.

All children in the study took four standardized tests at the beginning of the study and six months later to assess their school readiness, visual motor skills, gross motor skills and cognitive development.

child staring into computer screen

The children who worked on a computer performed better on measures of school readiness and cognitive development than the children without computers. Also, kids who did computer work both at home and at school performed better than kids who worked at a computer only at school.

But too much of anything can be a problem. Like adults, children who spend many hours in front of a computer have a greater risk of developing computer ergonomics problems and computer vision syndrome. Computer ergonomics is the study of people's efficiency at their computer work stations. Problems with computer ergonomics are closely associated with computer vision syndrome, which can affect children as well as adults.

Another potential problem of too much screen time (from computers, e-readers, video games and smartphones) for children's eyes is overexposure to harmful blue light. All digital devices with viewing screens emit significant amounts of blue light (also called "high-energy visible light" or "HEV light") which might increase a child's risk of macular degeneration later in life.

Though the sun emits significantly more HEV light than computers and other digital devices, the added exposure to blue light kids receive from these devices and how close these electronic screens are to a child's eyes for hours each day have many eye care providers worried about potential eye damage over time.

And many eye care practitioners who specialize in children's vision believe prolonged computer use among children puts them at risk for progressive myopia.

For these reasons, it's a good idea to set guidelines for your children when it comes to the amount of time they spend in front of a computer.

To reduce your youngster's risk of childhood computer vision syndrome and computer ergonomics problems, make sure he or she is seated comfortably and has a "neutral" posture when working at the computer.

Many experts also recommend getting away from the computer every 20 to 30 minutes to stand and stretch. This helps relieve muscle tension that can contribute to computer vision problems and computer ergonomics problems.

Computers and other digital devices aren't going away, and it's unlikely your child will use his or her electronic devices less in the future. If your child already is wearing prescription eyeglasses, the best way to reduce exposure to blue light when using electronic devices is to purchase eyeglass lenses that are specially treated to block harmful HEV rays.

A number of eyewear companies are now offering these blue-blocking eyeglass lenses, which have only a minimal tint and can be worn full time for all activities. Examples include Crizal Prevencia No-Glare lenses (Essilor) and BluTech lenses (Signet Armorlite).

A convenient way to protect your child's eyes from both UV and HEV rays is to purchase eyeglasses with photochromic lenses. These lenses are clear indoors and quickly darken in sunlight, providing built-in protection from UV and blue light — whether your child is using a computer, texting or playing in the sunshine outside.

child pointing at laptop screen

Protection from blue light also is available by purchasing eyeglass lenses for your child that include an anti-reflective coating specially formulated to block HEV rays. Examples of these include Hoya Recharge AR coating (Hoya Vision) and SeeCoat Blue AR coating (Nikon).


Though heredity seems to play a significant role in the development of myopia in childhood, some research suggests that eye strain, and specifically computer eye strain, also may be involved.

To see clearly up close, the eye has to exert focusing effort. Some researchers feel that fatigue caused by excessive focusing can lead to changes within the eye that cause myopia. And experts agree that focusing on images on a computer screen causes greater eye fatigue than reading normal print in a book or magazine.

To reduce the risk of focusing fatigue that can cause advancing nearsightedness among kids who spend a lot of time on a computer, many eye doctors recommend frequent breaks from computer work. Some call this the "20-20-10" rule: Every 20 minutes your child should take his eyes off the computer and look at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 10 seconds.

This simple exercise relaxes the focusing muscle inside the eye and may help reduce eye strain and eye fatigue that could cause progressive myopia. Some eye doctors also recommend special computer glasses to help relieve eye strain.


To make sure your kids are ready for computer use at school, schedule a comprehensive eye exam for them prior to the start of every school year. This exam should include tests that evaluate near vision skills for computer use and reading as well as visual acuity testing that is conducted both across the room and up close.

Tell your eye doctor if your child has shown any signs of eye or vision problems, such as squinting, frequent eye rubbing, red eyes, head turns and other unusual postures, or if he or she complains of blurred vision or eye fatigue when reading or using a computer. Avoidance of computer work may also indicate vision problems.

Computers are an important (and virtually unavoidable) part of your child's life and education. A comprehensive eye exam each year during the school years can help him be as comfortable as possible and perform at his best during computer work. In some cases, a referral to a children's vision specialist and/or a program of vision therapy may be indicated to resolve computer- or learning-related vision problems.