Surprising Ways Today's Tech is Harming Children's Health

Hidden Health Hazards of Technology and How It's Hurting Our Kids

A picture of kids using tablets
Even the youngest children are facing the hidden health hazards of today's technology. Photo © Hero Images / Getty Images

Teens, school-age children and even preschoolers love their technology. But research is proving even the youngest children can experience the hidden dangers of too much tech time and the fun of today's technology could be setting your child up for a life full of pain and other health issues tomorrow. Stop chronic issues from affecting your child before they start.  Being aware of the following health concerns and making adjustments to keep your kids happy and safe can minimize your child's health hazards from today's technology.

Repetitive Stress Injuries

From laptops in school to too much texting, kids are being exposed to more repetitive stress injuries now than just 10 years ago. In fact, the term "digital disabilities" has been coined to describe the aches and pains people are experiencing in today's high-tech world.

Laptop trackpads and improper hand and wrist placement are causing carpal tunnel syndrome and hand, wrist and shoulder pain in young people, according to a 2011 study from Boston University published in the Ergonomics journal. That study found that more than 50 percent of university students were already experiencing muskoskeletal discomfort from typing on computers, texting and using tablets at improper angles. A 2015 study published in the journal Muscle & Nerve found that by the time kids enter college, those who've used smartphones for years have already experienced impaired hand function, thumb pain and other repetitive strains from all of that texting, swiping and scrolling.

Experts say using an external mouse is better than using a trackpad. And,while it may be hard to convince your child texting too much is actually harming his body, you may have to try for his health's sake. If he needs to look at the Internet for research or get in touch with his friends, let him go old school by using a desktop with a solid keyboard that helps him relieve some of those continual motions of texting, swiping and scrolling on his phone.

Back Problems

Mom always warned us to sit up straight and that's important now more than ever. Children are spending hours each week hunched over tablets and computers these days and that's setting them up for a lifetime of back problems. Even a child sitting on the floor playing video games can damage his back from not being seated properly.

A recent study from the British Chiropractic Association found that 40 percent of 11 to 16 year olds have already started feeling back and neck pain. Poor posture while using technology has caused such widespread problems in children and adults that there's even a word for it, iPosture.

Of course, the convenience of laptops, tablets and smartphones means you can take them anywhere and so can your kids. But it's still important to encourage them to practice perfect posture, whether they're sitting in front of the TV or working on their computers. Have them sit on the couch instead of hunching over a joystick while sitting on the floor and set up a child-friendly ergonomic work space for their computer work. The better the posture, the more likely they'll minimize this health hazard that can cause a lifetime of pain in their bodies.

Vision

Even preschoolers can stare at a tablet, computer or smartphone screen for hours on end.

And all those educational apps and games that captivate the kids for hours can be causing headaches, fatigue, blurred vision, double vision, myopia and even computer vision syndrome if kids spend too much time with their technology.

The brightness and high energy of the shortwave blue and violet lights our screens give off can damage the retina, according to the American Optometric Association's 2015 American Eye-Q survey. The blue light of screens has been compared to UV light, the same as staring at the sun too long. A 2016 study also found more kids who use smartphones are suffering from dry eye syndrome, a condition more commonly found in elderly people.

The easiest way to reduce your child's chances of eye damage is to eliminate excessive screen exposure. How much time your children are actually spending with their technology may surprise all of you.

Have your kids log the time they spend in front of the screen for one week. Tally up the hours and set solid rules for when screen time is allowed and when you should all unplug. When using tech, make sure the brightness is adjusted according to the light in the room and not overly bright or too dim. An anti-glare screen can also help your child in certain lighting, such as outdoors, so he's not squinting at the screen.

Hearing

All of this tech is taking its toll on our kids' hearing. Ear buds and those convenient DVD player headphones in your car we use to contain the noise are actually causing long-term, irreversible harm to our children's ears.

A 2016 study from the Centers for Disease Control found about 5.2 million kids between the ages of six and 19 suffer from noise-induced hearing loss. That study also found that the more kids are regularly exposed to loud noises, the more damage they can do to the nerve cells in their ears. A 2010 Australian study cited personal listening devices as the cause of of hearing loss and a U.S. National Health Study in the same year found that one in five teens suffers from hearing loss, which is on the rise from 1988's statistics.

Preventing hearing damage may seem like an uphill battle for parents who have children who always have earbuds or headphones on. But with supporting data that shows our younger generations are doing preventable damage to their hearing, it's worth pulling out those earbuds and taking off those headphones to save their hearing. Personal mini speakers are affordable and plug directly into your child's smartphone or iPod. This alternative lets your child listen to their music externally without having to stuff those earbuds down into their ear canal. They can also be used on portable DVD players, allowing your child to listen to his movies through external speakers. Or you can always save the in-car entertainment for those times when you're traveling, as opposed to letting your kids watch DVDs every time he gets in the car.

Brain

One of the most alarming studies about kids and today's tech has to do with video gaming and the long-term effects it can have on the brain. Research from the University of Montreal discovered that children who continually play video games could be changing the way they use their brains. That 2015 study found kids who play countless hours of video games tend to "neglect" their brains and have an increased chance of suffering from depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Before you trash the gaming console, though, it's important to note other studies have found there are benefits to kids who play video games. A study from Radboud University in the Netherlands, for instance, found that video games help kids learn how to solve problems and make decisions.

Screen time has long been a concern of the American Academy of Pediatrics but even the AAP recognizes how its previous guidelines of no screen time until children reached the age of two were virtually impossible in today's tech world, releasing new screen time guidelines in late 2016 for parents. About a month later, a new debate emerged surrounding screen time rewiring children's brains, especially early in life. Scientific research from the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children's Hospital found that there is a link between tech rewiring a young child's brain, which comes with its own set of pros and cons. But one scientist from Brandeis University told NPR that whether that rewiring was good or bad for the child was really left to a parent's interpretation, saying that moms and dads just needed to monitor their children's viewing habits and reactions closely.

In other words, despite the scientific data being mixed on whether screen time and video games are helpful, harmful or even a little bit of both, you're still the best judge on what's right for your children. Limiting screen time is never a bad idea because it puts you in control of what your children are watching and gives you the opportunity to spend more quality time with your family. Just be sure to watch for the latest research results for all of today's tech as well as emerging technologies that can help you minimize your child's health risks.