Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. How do you protect their growing bodies and minds, and what amounts of screen time are safe? Our expert weighs in.
Playing video games may seem like a sedentary activity with little to no chance for injury, but it actually comes with its share of risks. Repetitive and often strenuous finger, hand and wrist movements coupled with poor posture and long hours can cause pain throughout the body.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that’s common among people who perform repetitive movements with their fingers and hands, like typists and musicians. For gamers, it can come as a result of pressing the “shoot” button over and over, holding hands and wrists in a locked position over the keyboard or clicking mouse buttons continuously.
“It’s a condition that occurs from compression of the median nerve as it travels through the wrist,” explains Rob Sherman, occupational therapist with Renown Rehabilitation Hospital. “Symptoms can include numbness, tingling, pain and weakness in the hand and arm.”
Over time, the pressure on the nerve can cause permanent damage, so if your child is experiencing symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor.
Many gamers also sit in the same position for hours on end and can become so engrossed in the game that they’re unaware of how they’re sitting.
“This often leads to a ‘hunchback’ type of posture, which may cause both neck and back pain,” Sherman says.
Additionally, poor lighting conditions and sitting too close to the screen can cause eye pain and strain. A lengthy session in front of a screen can cause migraines.
So what’s the solution for parents of avid gamers? Sherman says moderation and variation are key.
“Carpal tunnel syndrome and back and neck pain can be prevented by limiting playing time to one hour blocks, getting up, stretching and engaging in some form of physical activity,” Sherman says.
If the kids are reluctant to put down the controller, it can be helpful if mom and dad have some ideas ready for other things to do. Athletic programs, bicycling and running are all great physical alternatives, but in the winter months aren’t always realistic options. Reading, art projects and playing board games as a family are activities kids can enjoy year-round.
When they do play video games, encouraging proper posture and positioning goes a long way. Make sure they’re sitting up straight in chairs that have good back support with the monitor or screen at eye level.
“Incorporating principles of ergonomics, such as working in neutral postures, reducing excessive motions and maintaining good body mechanics will also help decrease the likelihood of developing these conditions,” Sherman says.
Ergonomics aside, should parents and guardians limit a child’s screen time?
For children 2-5 years old, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time of any type of media — including computers and television — to one hour per day. For kids 6 years and older, the AAP recommends parents determine the restrictions for screen time, as well monitor the types of digital media their children use. For infants up to 18 months old, zero exposure to media is recommended.