Your Child’s Vision Health: Learning, Screen Time, and the Outdoors

Have you taken your children for their eye exams lately? Kids’ vision is still developing—in fact, eye growth doesn’t stabilize until the age of 20. Even if your child has 20/20 vision, there are other aspects of the visual system that need to be maintained to support their development and success.

Correlation between vision and learning

Visual acuity is what most of us imagine when we think about “healthy vision”. However, there are several other aspects, as well, including focusing, tracking, teaming, and perception, that are imperative to children’s ability to learn. Each of these skills is still developing throughout early and middle childhood, which makes it even more important for kids to have their eyes examined. An eye exam could identify any issues with the development of the visual system, and an optometrist could provide you with the proper resources to help improve or correct the problem.

Without an exam to identify a lack of these visual skills, it’s possible for some kids to be misdiagnosed with a learning disorder. For example, if a child is having trouble with eye tracking, they could experience difficulty reading. However, their struggle could be misdiagnosed as ADHD or simply labeled apathy, which will only lead to more academic problems as the child progresses through school without access to the necessary supports.

Children won’t always know when they are having trouble with their eyesight, but there are a few signs that you can look out for. For example, if your kids are consistently sitting close to the TV or holding books too close when reading, it’s possible that they are struggling to see clearly. Additional signs include squinting or tilting the head, rubbing eyes, and complaining of headaches or tired eyes.

Myopia and Canadian children

In Canada, one common vision problem among kids is myopia, or nearsightedness. A study conducted in Waterloo, Ontario discovered that 17.5% of children in the region have the condition. While 6% of kids aged 6–8 had myopia, this percentage increased with age, climbing to 28.9% among those aged 11–13. Contributing factors may include both reading and screen time. Additionally, if children had at least one parent with nearsightedness, they were 2.5 times more likely to develop it, as well.

Conversely, the study found that, for every extra hour spent outdoors per week, the odds of a child having the condition decreased by 14%.

While a natural alternative to screen time is reading, encourage your kids to open the back door and explore the world around them.

Research from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) also supported the finding that outdoor time could reduce children’s risk of developing myopia. The benefit of outdoor time is still unclear, but it is suspected that it’s directly correlated with exposure to sunlight. Those who spent more time outside did not necessarily spend less time reading or playing on screens.

Guidelines to promote vision health

Over 60% of parents mistakenly believe that they would know if their child was having vision problems, and fewer than 14% of kids younger than 6 have had eye exams. Rather than waiting until you begin seeing signs of difficulty, you can make regular visits to the optometrist to ensure that your little one’s eyesight is healthy.

Limiting the amount of screen time your child has every day may also help slow the development of myopia.

As a guideline, children between the ages of 2 – 5 should be limited to one hour of screen time per day. Boys and girls 6 and older should use screens in moderation, while the Canadian Pediatric Society recommendations for those under 18 months are much more stringent.

Instead, encourage your kids to spend more time outside. Join them for a bike ride or take them to the local playground. Although sunlight is suspected to be a reason for the benefit of outdoor time, be sure to protect your child’s eyes with a hat and sunglasses so they aren’t damaged by UV rays.

For more information on how you can support your child’s eye health, make an appointment with an optometrist at your local Visique today.