Your child’s eyes are special. In the early years, vision helps them find out about the world around them, about their home, about you. Later, as they go through school, their eyesight lets them learn and discover – in fact, about 80% of what is taught in schools is presented visually.
Most very young children have their eyesight assessed as part of routine developmental checks. While these are important, they aren’t as thorough as a complete eye test by a qualified optometrist. Spec-Savers recommend that your child has their eyes tested every 24 months from the age of six, unless there is a need for them to be examined at a younger age.
Testing before your son or daughter goes into full-time education is vital as not being able to see clearly can be confusing in a busy classroom, and poor eyesight can cause learning and behavioural problems. This is especially true for young children, who may find it difficult to explain the difficulties they are having with their eyesight. They may not even be aware they have a problem at all.
Routine early eye testing also means that any problems they may have can be identified early, and the sooner vision problems are detected, the better the outcome. Conditions such as squinting and amblyopia (lazy eye) can be treated more effectively if they are picked up earlier, which could make a world of difference to your child.
Tell-tale signs that your child may have vision problems include:
- Straining their eyes, tilting their head or closing one eye to read, watch TV or see better
- Losing their place while reading, or using a finger to guide their eyes
- Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
- Avoiding activities which require near vision, such as reading or homework, or distance vision, such as participating in sports or other recreational activities
- Avoiding using a computer or tablet because it hurts their eyes
- Sensitivity to light and/or excessive tearing
- Falling behind in school
- Complaining of headaches or tired eyes and frequent eye-rubbing
- The presence of a ‘turn’ in the eye or a misdirection of the eyes
- A ‘white reflex’ in photographs. This is similar in appearance to red-eye, except it’s white. It is extremely serious – if you notice it, you should seek medical attention immediately.
Screen time for kids
A major concern among parents these days is screen time – justifiably so, with some research suggesting that children are spending as much as six hours a day on digital devices. Digital devices are important tools for education, giving children access to endless amounts of information and resources. Unfortunately, extended use of digital screens, without taking consistent breaks or the correct adjustments, could impact your child’s eyes, causing eye strain, discomfort and may even contribute to the development or progression of short sightedness (myopia).
While it’s not possible for your child to stop using screens altogether, there are a few things you can do to help protect your child’s eye health:
Recommended screen time for children
It’s difficult to suggest a fixed limit to a child’s screen time, as recommendations depend on many factors such as age and usage. To set a reasonable limit, think about the needs of your child (for example, whether their laptop is required for school work), and how much the use of screens interrupts other activities (like social activities or sleep).
Follow the 20:20:20 rule
The 20:20:20 rule is simple. It means your child should look away from their screen every 20 minutes, and look at something 20 feet (6 metres) away, for at least 20 seconds. You should encourage your child to follow this rule as it will relax their eye muscles and help to reduce the risk of many symptoms of digital eye strain.
Adjust their screen positioning
It’s important to place screens slightly below eye level, and follow the 1-2-10 rule for screen distance to allow the eyes to focus properly: mobile phones should ideally be one foot (30cm) away, laptops and computer screens should be two feet (60cm) away, and televisions should be 10 feet (3 metres) away.
Schedule outside and media-free time daily
Children should be encouraged to spend time outside to give the eyes a rest from focusing on a screen and give the mind a chance to relax too. Arranging media-free times every day also reduces eye fatigue and will help to prevent reliance on digital devices. This could be establishing ‘screen-free’ time in the evenings, using this time to connect as a family — with parents leading by example and turning off their digital devices too.