(This entry forms part of a series about IT and learning. Please see the previous entry about how to teach your children to use computers wisely.)
How much time in front of the computer is healthy at any age? Or perhaps a more prudent question would be “What’s the maximum time you can spend in front of the computer without it being unhealthy?”
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer.
There is no doubt that spending time in front of a computer is not the best thing you can do for your body. Even if you’re sitting or kneeling in a special ergonomic chair designed by posture experts, you will tend to hunch your shoulders, bend your neck, strain your spine. Even the best computer screen, with minimal or no flickering refresh rate, will eventually tire out your eyes (although LCD screens are much better than CTR ones - see http://www.homeandoffice.hp.com/hho/cache/7361-0-0-225-121.html). Typing is bad from your wrists and mousing is bad for your dominant-hand shoulder.
Then of course come all the disadvantages of a sedentary pastime instead of a kinaesthetic one, and the psychological dangers of spending too much time in cyberspace, like going to chat rooms instead of parties all the time. (To see whether you’re in danger of becoming addicted to the Internet or lured by electronic casinos, etc., please visit us on www.clc.co.nz and fill in your Learning Style Analysis.)
It’s a researched fact that preschoolers are beginning to spend time in front of the computer at the cost of other activities. “Children aged 6 and under spend an average of two hours a day playing video games, using computers, and watching TV and videos, about the same amount spent on outdoor activities, the Kaiser Family Foundation reports in a study released Tuesday. That amount is about three times the average 49 minutes spent reading or being read to.” (source: http://www.cnn.com/2003/HEALTH/parenting/10/28/tv.kids/index.html)
Can too much time in front of the computer harm my child? Yes, according to a reputable parenting advice forum: http://parentcenter.babycenter.com/expert/bigkid/ggames/71259.html.
But not only children are at risk. Japanese researchers surveyed 25,000 office workers over the period of three years. They discovered that people who spent the most time in front of a computer screen suffered most from such symptoms as back pain, anxiety and insomnia. Workers with the worst symptoms spent five or more hours a day computer-bound.
To improve your health, then, it makes sense to eliminate or limit all the non-essential tasks you perform on the computer (surfing the Net for the fun of it, checking emails too often, playing games, chatting).
Starting now. :-)