'Don't forget to blink': Expert shares tips for gadget use amid remote learning

Arra Perez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 12 2021 06:46 PM

An online class at the Rafael Palma Elementary School
An online class at the Rafael Palma Elementary School in Manila on October 2, 2020. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA— Grade 12 student Errol Jireh Paguirigan is happy he's back in school after online classes resumed last week.

But while he likes to study, he's bothered as his eye grade has increased. He blames this on too much use of gadgets for online classes and, admittedly, on playing online games.

"Nahihilo na po ako 'pag natanggal iyong glasses, parang nagdo-doble na po iyong paningin. Minsan 'pag nagsusulat sa notebook, hindi na po makita kahit malapit na po iyong pinagsusulatan kasi malabo na po," Paguiringan told ABS-CBN News.

(I get dizzy when I remove my glasses, as if I have double vision. Sometimes when I write on my notebook, I can't see what I'm writing even if it's near because my vision is already blurred.) 

He said that besides studying, he hasn't been doing much except watching TV. Paguiringan can't go outside because he's a minor, and those within this age bracket are not allowed to go outside except during emergencies due to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown in some parts of the country.

"Mas lalo po hirap ngayon kasi wala po pagkakaabalahan iyong mga students na kagaya ko po, mga minor. Ayun po, talagang naka-stuck lang po sa gadgets," he said.

(It's harder now since students and minors like me don't have much to do. We're stuck with our gadgets.)

According to ophthalmologist Dr. Buenjim Mariano, too much screen time may be the cause of young people becoming nearsighted. But he admits it would be a challenge to ask minors to stop using gadgets these days since distance learning is the mode of instruction in schools during the pandemic.

"I've been getting more and more kids complaining of eye pain, headaches, and when I look at it, the main cause... is too much gadgets," he said.

"Minsan, iyong ibang tao, kapag nasosobrahan ng gadgets, sumasakit na iyong ulo, sumasakit na iyong mata."

(Sometimes, some people, when they spend too much time on gadgets, they get headaches and their eyes become sore.)

Mariano explained that based on recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, no screen time is allowed for kids aged 18 to 24 months while an hour of gadget usage is enough for 2 to 5-year-old children. 

An exception would be for virtual calls with family members, he said.

Mariano said that for minors beyond these age groups, screen time depends on the situation but the proper use of gadgets must still be taught.

If not, children may become nearsighted at an early age, experience dry eyes, and worse, may be diagnosed with other conditions.

Mariano also warned that children may develop attention deficit hyperactivity disorder due to too much screen time. But this may not happen if parents will respond immediately.

"It's up to the parents on how they want their children to grow up," he said. 

"Parents should be mindful with screen time allowed per day and what gadgets should not be used during a certain time," he said.

To avoid eye strain, Mariano recommended the "20-20-20 rule" to be practiced, wherein for every 20 minutes, minors will look at an object 20 feet away from them for 20 seconds.

Another method he suggested is to blink from time to time, no matter how immersed minors are in what they're seeing or doing on the screen.

"Don't forget to blink. Kailangan niyong kumarap. Kasi kung hindi kayo kumurap, matutuyo iyong mata niyo. Kung matutuyo iyong mata niyo, it's gonna give you problems. One, pwedeng lumabo iyong mata mo. Kapag hindi mo pinansin, pwedeng mamula. Kapag hindi mo pa rin pinansin, pwedeng lumuha. Kapag hindi mo pa rin pinansin, it's gonna give you headaches already. And kapag may headaches ka na, that's the time you actually go visit a doctor," Mariano said.

(You need to blink. If you don't blink, your eyes will go dry. Dry eyes will give you problems. One, your vision could blur. If you ignore this, your eyes may turn red. If you still ignore this, you may tear up involuntarily. And if you still ignore it, you may get headaches. And that's the time you actually go visit a doctor.)

Helen Paguirigan, Errol's mother, now constantly tells her son to rest his eyes from gadgets especially when he uses them to play online games.

"Kesa iyong naglalaro, alam mo na iyong mga ML (Mobile Legends), pinatitigil ko po kasi ipahinga niya muna iyong mata niya," she said.

(If he's playing, like ML, I make him stop to rest his eyes.)

Desiree Datu also has worries about too much screen time for her son, Grade 6 student Euan, who started classes last week. But she appreciates the effort of Euan's school to set limits on screen time for online classes.

Like Helen, Datu has her own strategies to prevent her son from using gadgets often.

"Nililimitahan ko iyong oras nila, hangga't maaari, kino-confiscate ko nga. Saka may rest day sila, may araw na hindi talaga sila pwedeng maglaro ng cellphone. Pag ganoon, binibigyan ko na lang ng ibang mga laruan," Datu said.

(I limit his screen time, and as much as I can, I confiscate his gadgets. And he has rest days. There are times he's not allowed to use his cellphone. I give him other toys.)

"Mga bagay na mas kikilos siya, kunwari pang-tennis. O kaya utusan kong maghugas ng pinggan o magsaing."

(It's better that he moves more, like playing tennis. Or I make him wash the dishes.)

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