by Kieran Campbell - News Limited Network
THEY are growing up with more and more technology at their fingertips for more and more hours a day - but it could be coming at a high price.
A generation of youngsters are now developing significant physical injuries traditionally only seen in adults because of their increasing reliance on smartphones, tablets and computers.
Parents are being warned about a "future epidemic of overuse injury" if children are not taught the safe and correct way to use the technology.
Health professionals are treating kids as young as five who have developed chronic back pain and early signs of curvature of the spine from hunching over their tablets and smartphones, carpel tunnel syndrome from overusing their thumbs, and headaches and temporarily blurred vision from staring for too long at screens often too close to their faces.
Ann Thomson, from the RSI and Overuse Injury Association, said the number of such injuries in youngsters was rising.
"A major prevention program is required to stop a future epidemic of overuse injury," she said.
She said many children had ended up with "really severe problems" in their arms, neck and shoulders and the injuries were worsened because children become so engulfed in what they're doing that they ignored any pain to continue playing their game or surfing the web.
Often the injuries can be treated but there is the risk of long-term issues, she said.
"We've had kids who have developed really serious problems and parents have been incredibly worried about them," Ms Thomson said.
"When kids are really engaged in their activity, they're more likely to work through feelings of pain. They keep going despite pain."
Liz Jackson, a Sydney optometrist who specialises in treating children, said a growing number were reporting having sore eyes, temporarily blurred vision and headaches, "and that's simply because they're looking at a fixed distance for a long period of time".
"Headaches, sore eyes (and) generally feeling tired would be all things that I'd be concerned about," she said.
Experts are calling on parents to help ensure their children use gadgets in a safer way - by taking regular breaks, positioning their device so it encourages better posture, and limiting the daily time allowance.
"Parents ... should be prepared to be unpopular. They need to be a bit tough," Ms Thomson said.
Dr Joseph Ierano, from the Chiropractors' Association of Australia, said the learning benefits of games and other technologies were evident but not at the expense of outdoor activities.
"I'd rather see a soccer injury than a kid that's been inside for eight hours a day playing (video) games," he said.
Kate Fraser, a manager at Kidsafe, said many parents were worried their children were not taking proper breaks from using technology.
"Lots of families are concerned about children using technology for prolonged periods of time and it actually gives a lot of parents headaches because it interrupts homework time and chore time," Ms Fraser said.
"In terms of the health and safety aspect, there are concerns around prolonged use of gaming, on iPads or computers, simply because ... there's prolonged poor posture usually and ... also that it's static."
Ms Fraser said the most important thing parents could suggest was for their kids to take a break from technology to run around outside, kick a ball and play with the dog.
"It's important not to see technology as the enemy because, let's face it, it's here to stay," she said. "It's kind of like eating too much chocolate - it comes back to balance."
THE PAIN GAME
- Sore thumbs and hands: strain injury to the hand from overuse of a handheld device, computer mouse, or gaming controller, particularly during rigorous video games
- Back injury: pain in the spine from poor posture, mostly hunching, while using iPads and similar gadgets, which can cause headaches and prolonged back pain as well as future spinal problems
- Text neck: neck pain that can vary from minor to significant and as a result of tilting your head while using a phone
- Computer screen strain: temporary blurred vision and tension headaches as a result of sitting too close to or watching a computer screen for too long, and the development of dry eye from focusing on a screen without blinking
KEEPING TECH SAFE
- Take a break from technology every 30 minutes
- Set a maximum of two hours a day of computer use for young people
- Never put your laptop on your lap. It should be on a desk or a table and elevated to be at eye level. If you can, use a proper keyboard and mouse
- Learn keyboard shortcuts to avoid using the mouse too often
- Regularly look away from your computer screen and focus on something across the room to allow your eyes to relax
- Keep an arm's length away from your computer screen and encourage children to use tablets over devices with smaller screens
- Parents should be prepared to be unpopular and set boundaries for their kids