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Digital dilemma

With children spending many hours glued to the screen for online classes, parents are in a quandary
on allowing them more screen time, wary of long-term effect on their eyesight. Ophthalmologists also
agree that spending long hours in front of computer and tablet screens during online classes could be
detrimental to eyesight in the long run. However, with the education system itself shifting to the digital
mode, parents are walking an emotional tightrope now, stuck between the demands of their children
and the need to take care of their well-being. The scourge of online classes imposed due to the
pandemic, exacerbated by slow 2G speed in Kashmir, has forced children to spend more time on the
screen resulting in severe health problems. The screen routine has become mandatory and
monotonous in the name of online classes. The constant gazing at screens for two-three hours has
led to eye fatigue, weakness, and dryness among the kids. Many kids are finding it difficult to handle
lengthy online classes every day. These growing grievances make it noticeably clear that the online
classes are having drastic impact on the eyes of children. Ever since the outbreak of Covid-19
pandemic, life for children has changed like never before. Schools are closed and meetings with
peers and friends outdoors are prohibited. They are being forced to adjust to the changing dynamics
of social and interpersonal relationships. The mandatory e-learning has emerged as a method for
current teaching and learning in private universities and schools. However, the overexposure to
electronic medium is causing eye strain and vision problems for the lockdown-weary Kashmiri
students. In the latest policy paper, “Digital eye strain (DES) in the era of COVID 19 pandemic: An
emerging public health threat”, published in Indian Journal of Ophthalmology in August, the health
experts have highlighted how without any specific guidelines, it is now a usual routine for children to
spend most of the time (8-12 hours per day) attending e-classes in front of a computer or mobile
screens. The paper pointed out that the use of digital screens is quite common among Kashmiri
children. Besides, the instigation of unlimited e-classes for such children has put an extra load on their
already overburdened eyes. The devices, according to the paper, cause harm by emitting short high
energy waves that can penetrate eyes and can eventually contribute to photochemical damage to the
retinal cells, making an individual vulnerable to a variety of eye problems ranging from dry eye to age
related macular degeneration. It is collectively known as Digital Eye Strain (DES) or computer vision
syndrome. DES is an emerging public health threat and is directly proportional to the duration of
digital screen exposure. According to it the age group that is the most at risk is children and we
assume that their diagnosis could get delayed as children may not complain at the earliest like adults.
It is the high time now for the policymakers to come up with a stringent guideline to deal with this
emerging threat.