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Monitor Your Kids' Computer Time

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Too much computer time can be a real pain.

The average American child spends more than three hours a day on the computer doing schoolwork, talking online and playing games. In fact, more than 90 percent of school age children -- and preschool age children -- have access to a computer at home or in school. This is increasingly leading to neck and shoulder pain, wrist and back discomfort, headache and fatigue, and eye strain.

Health experts say many problems arise from:

  • Improper posture at the computer that puts a strain on the neck and back
  • Twisting or nodding to see the monitor that causes stress to the neck and upper back muscles
  • "Mousing" at awkward angles that leads to shoulder and wrist pain
  • Poorly placed keyboards that bring on carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Improperly placed monitors that trigger eye strain

How to alleviate the physical stress of computer time

The most important safety measure you can take is to create an ergonomically correct work station for your child. The area should be designed to prevent leaning forward or backward, bending or twisting the body or neck, or bending the wrist or elbows awkwardly. Specifically:

  • Make sure the child's back is touching the back of the chair so that he isn't leaning into the computer. Feet should be flat on the floor and the knees shouldn't be higher than the hips. Use a footstool to support dangling feet.
  • Position the monitor at eye level and make sure the child's neck doesn't have to twist, tilt or strain to view the screen. The recommended distance between the monitor and the eye for children is 18-28 inches. Viewing a computer screen closer than 18 inches causes eye strain
  • Adjust the height of the keyboard to keep the wrists straight (in line with the forearm) and elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. Place the mouse close to the keyboard to reduce the amount of reaching. For small children, consider purchasing a child-sized keyboard and mouse designed for smaller hands. 

Other ways to help 

  • Monitor computer time. Children can lose track of time when in front of the computer. If necessary, set a timer to remind the child to take a break every 30 to 60 minutes.
  • If your child types from a document or book, make sure it is placed in a document holder and that it is close to the screen so that your child doesn't have to twist her head to see it.
  • Consider purchasing a glare guard for the monitor to help reduce eye strain.

Because of the increasing influence of computers on our everyday lives, it is important for parents and children to survey their computer environments and make the adjustments needed to keep themselves healthy.