Amanda Raymond: Tablet troubles

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 8, 2015

Okay, I know I’ve been on this ‘technology in the schools’ kick for a while, but bear with me for one more piece. Then I’ll leave it alone — for now.

One question that has been lingering in my mind is what are health effects of having all those screens in the classroom? Having technology in the classroom is fairly new for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, so we hopefully won’t see any serious health effects in the near future. But they are out there.

For one thing, there is computer vision syndrome. It is a term used for a range of eyestrain and pain an individual may experience because of too much time spent in front of a computer screen, according to WebMD. The symptoms include blurred vision, headaches, neck or back pain and dry, red eyes.

According to a study called “Computer use and stress, sleep disturbances and symptoms of depression among young adults – a prospective cohort study,” researchers found that high computer use was associated with sleep disturbances and negative mental health outcomes.

In another study conducted by Young, Trudeau, Odell, Marinelli and Dennerlien, researchers found that tablet users may be at a greater risk of developing musculoskeletal symptoms because of exposure to what the study calls “extreme wrist postures.” The postures occur when a user handles the tablet with their hands instead of placing it on a stand or desk. For example, the study found high wrist radial deviation, the wrist moving toward the thumb side of your forearm, in the participants’ non-dominant hand when it was used to hold the tablet.

So one can see how even previous research on computer screens can apply to tablets. Students sitting around on tablets all day is probably not a good thing for their health. I know that when I spend all day on my tablet I end up with a headache and sore shoulders from hunching over.

The good news is that this is not the case in Rowan-Salisbury classrooms. Renee Fox at West Rowan Middle School said her students only spend a part of their time on tablets. Students are still doing group work and worksheets with good old paper and pencil. Fox even said teachers can take activities from the techbook programs and apply them in their classrooms without using tablets at all; students could be doing activities without even knowing they came from the electronic programs.

Although there may be some health risks from using electronics in the classrooms, there are ways teachers can easily avoid them.

Teachers can take breaks from using tablets and other electronic devices like Fox does in her classroom. They can show students the correct posture for computer and tablet use to make sure they are not straining their shoulders and back. Teachers can incorporate breaks for students to get up and stretch into their classroom routines. Even just looking up and away from the screen and focusing on something else in the distance can help reduce eye strain.

Maybe all of us old(er) people are just attributing our own problems to the younger generation. They grew up with this technology, so maybe their bodies are used to it. And they’re young; their eyes and backs can take more than some older bodies can. They’ll probably be fine, but anything teachers and other school officials can do to ward off those negative health effects helps.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.