Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Just when we thought we were out, they pulled us back in! The highly anticipated return to school has been pushed back, and we're now locked in to (at least) another three weeks of distance learning. By now, students are back on their computer screens for hours a day, and are no doubt already getting flashbacks of June, when they were sick and tired of learning online. Most parents aren't too glad either, but at least this time, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. In case that light gets pushed back a little further and the distance learning goes on for a little longer (as is the rumour), we need to help students avoid computer fatigue -- that feeling of having sore eyes, a tired body, and a numb brain that one gets after hours sitting at a desk on the computer. Here's why our kids are experiencing computer fatigue:
1. EYE-STRAIN FROM NOT TAKING BREAKS EVERY HOUR
I know it's probably not what you want to hear, but students need frequent breaks from staring at the screen in order to reduce digital eyestrain. Extended use of digital screens is the most common cause of eye-strain. Our eyes can get tired from things like driving long distances and reading for too long as well, but the effect is amplified when it's caused by a screen. This is because we tend to blink less frequently when staring at a screen, because the viewing angle isn't as comfortable, and of course due to the glare off of a screen. Eye-strain is not a serious condition, but it can be quite aggravating and will definitely affect the quality of the studying our pupils are trying to get done. It usually sets in after two or more hours in row of screen time, so the simplest way to reduce the effect is to take 5-10min breaks every hour. There are also some eye exercises one can do, such as eye rolls with your eyes closed, or using the 20-20-20 technique (every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds). Breaks and eye exercises will help reduce eye strain and computer fatigue.
2. NOT PAYING ATTENTION TO SITTING POSTURE
When we hear "posture", we automatically think "straighten you back". But there is so much more than that. Without proper desk posture, your body will get uncomfortable quickly in the short-term, and will fatigue in the long-term. It's going to sound like I'm describing a gymnastics pose at some points, but bear with me! Starting with the top: we need to try to keep ears over shoulders, and our shoulders should be relaxed. You need your back to be supported, and contrary to popular belief, it should be reclined slightly so that your the angle between your spine and your thighs is greater than 90 degrees (we all remember angles, right??). To set that up correctly, you'll need to adjust your seat height so that your thighs are parallel with the floor, and the entire bottom of your feet touch the ground comfortably. Your viewing angle should be such that the top of the monitor is at eye-level, and then tilt the monitor up a little. This will prevent you from bending your neck down, which causes strain all the way down your back and can cause headaches after a while.
3. NOT SETTING UP THEIR MONITOR CORRECTLY
We can help our eyes by taking breaks, but what about the time we are actually on the computer working? Well that comes down to your screen positioning and settings. As mentioned above, the top of monitor should be at eye level and tilted up slightly by about 10 to 20 degrees. It should also be about 50-75cm away from your eyes. To picture it, that's basically an arm's length away (definitely more than most people have their screens). As for the screen settings, you should at the very least adjust the font size and brightness/contrast of the screen to a level that's comfortable for you. The main culprit of eye strain, though, is glare. It makes the screen difficult to see, and makes your eyes fatigue quickly. Tilting the screen helps, but controlling the surrounding lights is essential. There are also a number of glare filters one can buy for pretty cheap that will greatly reduce glare and reflections on the screen. The drawback, though, is that they also reduce the image quality a little bit. Another current trend is using blue light filters. These will minimize the amount of blue light transmitted from the screen, which is said to travel all the way to the retina (the "screen" at the back of your eye), and can damage its cells over time. Studies are split over the true effects of blue light on eyes, so you may wish to try it for yourself! If you really want to get deep into it, you can also raise the screen's refresh rate to 120 Hz; the higher refresh rate means less of the imperceptible "flickering" that affects your eyes.
4. NOT USING A SEPARATE KEYBOARD AND MOUSE FOR LAPTOP
In this day and age, hardly anyone is using a desktop computer. We're basically all using laptops and tablets, agreed? The problem is that laptops were never really meant to be used for long periods of time. Laptop screens are almost always smaller than a desktop's, their monitor is stuck to the keyboard and so can't be kept at arm's length (see point 3 above), and they have a small touch pad inconveniently placed at center. There's not much you can do about the monitor size, but you can try setting up the other items like a desktop. The most effective (and cost-effective) way to fix this is to get a separate keyboard and mouse. That way, you can type comfortably with the keyboard close to you while having the monitor at a distance. You'll also be able to use the mouse in front of your right/left hand, instead of tilting inwards and using the touch-pad, which has been known to cause a series of wrist injuries and shoulder pain. Invest in these items to help your child avoid physical discomfort that forms part of computer fatigue.
5. NOT USING THE RIGHT MUSIC TO CARRY THEM THROUGH
Music can help with reducing stress while studying, improving focus, and prolonging endurance. It can also, however, be a total distraction. So how do you know what to expect? For starters, when studying, you need to choose music which has no lyrics. Otherwise, your brain will try to multitask your learning and your processing of auditory input it's getting, which will be a distraction. You can choose classical music, and even better would be Baroque classical: its tempo is generally around 60 beats per minute, which matches our heart rate, creating a nice harmony (pardon the pun)! If classical won't work for your child, Jazz music is also a good option for music without lyrics. If it's a repetitive task you are doing, you can try more upbeat/pop music to help you get through the mundane repetitions. It's been shown to help boost the feel-good hormones in listeners and that allowed them to work faster and make less mistakes. Whatever it is, though, you should generally stay away from new music; it uses too much of our mental faculties. Listening to something we already know will allow our brains to relegate it into the background while it works on the main tasks at hand. Overall though, the right music can be uplifting and can be a great pick-me-up when they are feeling drained. If you see your kid breaking out into song, though, it's probably not helping the studying!
THIS WEEK'S BRAIN TEASER
(Answer to the previous riddle: 12!)
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JUST FOR LAUGHS!
Until next time!