E-learning Without Eyestrain: Part 1 

Published October 11, 2020

Author: Dr. Nate Bonilla-Warford

Bright Eyes Family Vision Care

A visual health guide for students during the COVID-19 pandemic

If your child is experiencing screen-related eye fatigue, they may have an underlying vision problem.

This year, there is one topic that has been coming up over and over again in the Optometrist’s exam room, and that is school.

Let’s face it, school is challenging this year for everyone— students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

Recently, I have been  asked many questions  about vision, specifically from parents whose children are e-learning.

I understand these concerns well, not only because I help my patients every day, but also because I have two e-learners of my own: Nora, an 8th grader, and Javier, a 5th grader. As a family, we are experiencing this right now!

Every child’s case is unique and they need to do what is best for them.

E-learning can be the most visually stressful type of education because it is a set schedule of screen time for a large portion of the day, every day. 

In a classroom setting, the children move around, look up at the board and at friends to provide visual novelty.  In a virtual school and homeschool setting, the schedule can be much more flexible to allow for visual breaks.

Teachers are working as hard as they can right now, but they are not children’s vision experts.

Based on my knowledge of children’s vision and the research I have done, I have listed some helpful guidelines below to ensure that your children get the most out of e-learning, without as much eyestrain.

What is eye strain?

For many years, Optometrists have been helping office workers who suffer from Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), a collection of eye and vision problems related to excessive computer use.

It was originally thought that CVS was an adult problem, but now research has shown that children can (and do!) experience this problem, too. 

This can be compounded by the increased screen time and the general stress of e-learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Common symptoms from long-term computer use include:

  • Eyestrain
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Neck and shoulder pain

It is not hard to imagine how any of these symptoms can make learning difficult for a child who has to be in front of a computer or laptop most of the week.

What can parents do?

  • Select a bigger screen – The larger the screen, the easier it is to focus on details.
  • Adjust screen settings – Often selecting 110% or 125% magnification helps. Also, white print on black background can be more comfortable.
  • Position the screen – Position the center of the screen straight ahead so your child doesn’t need to tilt their head back or to the side. Also, be sure to position the screen further back on the desk, allowing for at least an elbow distance between their eyes and the screen.
  • Chair – Your child’s chair should be firm with back support.
  • Foot rest – If your child’s feet don’t touch the ground, a foot rest can help to stabilize them.
  • Lighting – You don’t want it to be too dark or too bright. Being near a window is great for natural light, as long as the direct sun is not shining in the child’s eyes or directly on the screen.
  • Water – Designate a place for a water bottle or cup so your child  stays hydrated.
  • Clutter – Keeping the environment clear of visual distraction can help your child to focus better.

Posture:

We all know that it can be difficult to get kids to maintain any particular position, specifically if they are little.

However, showing them how to sit with proper posture and reminding them often, can  help them stay comfortable during long work periods.

Below are some recommendations for efficient computer posture for kids:

  • Their back should be against the chair for support.
  • The chair seat should not compress behind the knees and cut off circulation.
  • Their feet should rest firmly on a floor or footrest (no dangling).
  • The head should be balanced on their neck (not tilted back or too far forwards).
  • The upper arms should remain close to their body and relaxed.
  • Their elbows should angle >90° (forearm below horizontal).
  • Their wrists should be neutral (not flexed).

Do children need computer glasses?

For adults like me who have “joined the club”, we need glasses to see small print up close. But in general, children have more visual focusing ability than adults and therefore don’t usually complain of not being able to see the screen.

However, many children do have functional issues and benefit from wearing glasses at the computer.

Some of these conditions include:

  • Refractive problems – Conditions such as farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism can make it more difficult to see the screen. Even a low prescription can cause a child to have headaches if they are not wearing eyeglasses.
  • Focusing problems – If children’s eyes do not focus accurately on the screen, glasses can help make it easier. Having glasses can make the difference between working comfortably and headaches and blurry vision.
  • Rapid fatigue – Some children can see the screen clearly for the first 15 or 20 minutes then start to lose interest because they can’t sustain focus on it.
  • Convergence problems – Some children have issues where their eyes either tend to over-converge (tend to turn in) or under-converge (don’t turn in enough). In both instances having the right glasses helps keep the image of the screen clear and single and makes reading easier.
  • Specialized prescriptions – Some children have unique vision problems and require alternate prescriptions such as prism or bifocals, these should definitely be taken into account.

Click here to read Part 2 of this article, and to learn more about how you can help your child to see more comfortably while e-learning.