Our kids’ screen time is likely to increase exponentially this school year. Here’s how to mitigate some of the effects.
By Heike Fallon
This year, returning to school means returning to a lot of screen time. As a mother of three teenagers, I am concerned about the effects of that screen time on their posture and their overall health.
Here are three habits that we have implemented in our family, my husband and myself included:
1. Using screens and monitors ergonomically
Most students use an iPad to do their school work. It is fairly lightweight and small in size, and perfect to carry to and from school. Unfortunately, it is not the greatest device to work on for hours every day. The iPad either lies on the table, is propped-up via a cover stand, or leans against the student’s legs (if your child sits on a sofa or bed). In any case, the screen is positioned too low, and the student will sit with his or her head bent over it for hours.
Prop up the iPad on a box or a tabletop stand so that the eyes are directly in-line with the center of the device (pictured above). We also do this with laptops, if the keyboard is not needed, as for Zoom calls.
If possible, have the student use a laptop or desktop computer rather than a tablet. The larger screen size helps the user sit more upright. With very small screens, we tend to lean in to see better. Kids seem not to use the “enlarge page” feature.
Get an external keyboard, and prop-up the iPad screen. Only use the iPad on a desk or table if absolutely needed.
2. Scheduling break time every 50 minutes
Our brains need breaks, and our eyes and bodies need movement. In an actual school setting, students walk to other classrooms and may move around in class for group work, and the restrooms are definitely a longer walk away than they are in most homes. When doing schoolwork at home, opportunities for movement decrease, but the brain still needs a break and the eyes and body still need movement.
Set a timer, and have your child take a quick five-minute break every 50 minutes. The 50-minute figure is scientifically determined to be the best interval for brain breaks. The key here is getting up and moving the body. Standing up and away from a screen also gets your eyes moving differently, which stimulates the brain and helps the nervous system, and therefore reduces overall stress levels.
If you can’t get away due to a Zoom call that runs past 50 minutes, then stand up. Prop the iPad on a shelf, and stand while participating in the call.
The 20/20/20 Rule (see last month’s column) is great for giving the eyes a reset between breaks, but it does not replace the breaks every 50 minutes. The important element of the breaks is the physical getting up.
Break activities that my teenagers enjoy include shooting a few hoops outside (and a mini indoor hoop will work, too, as long as the student stands and doesn’t sit), taking a quick walk or run around the block, playing one game of table tennis, and dancing to one song.
3. Reducing blue light
Screens emit blue light. Blue light is not bad, per se, as it is a component of our sunlight. We actually need blue light. But the blue light of a screen is not the full wavelength as is present in sunlight, and too much screen-emitted blue light can have a significant impact on sleep and emotional well being, contributing to stress, anxiety, and depression.
Take longer breaks from the screen by planning your day in advance.
Use blue light–blocking glasses from time to time and especially if using a screen after dinner. These glasses are yellow- or amber-tinted and are marketed as “computer glasses” or “gaming glasses.” The more heavily tinted, the more blue light the glasses will block. What is right for your child depends on their situation. A child that gets a headache and is easily stressed may want to try more tinted. A more red tint will help with sleep, and may also be used in the evening, even when the child is not on screens.
Change the brightness of the screen on the iPad. Open the Control Center by swiping downward from the top right corner of the screen. After holding the screen brightness icon for two seconds, select “Night Shift” (see photos above and below).
Heike Fallon is an El Segundo resident and business owner. Find her online at xpandhealth.com and on social media at @xpandhealth.