With September marking the time families get back to their regular, busy routines, it’s easy for parents to get lost in the hustle and overlook things that can have important impacts on their children. Among these is vision. Good vision plays a significant role in influencing your child’s ability to learn and develop. As a result, I’ve put together this useful list of things to consider and look for, as well as habits to develop, that will ultimately have a positive effect on your child, their vision, and therefore their learning.
Limit Screen Time and Nurture Good Digital Device Habits
Excessive screen time can lead to various symptoms including: dry eye, fluctuating vision, headaches and tired eyes. Activities that are often enjoyed by children – such as playing video games or socializing online – can be particularly harmful, as they are often done using great focusing effort and concentration for an extended time. This can cause focusing problems, such as spasm. This makes changing our focus to distance objects after extended near viewing tasks difficult, resulting in blurred vision, headaches in more severe cases, and possibly double vision in extreme cases. In addition, prolonged screen time can cause eye irritation from a lack of blinking, which leads to surface dryness as a result of the poor tear distribution. Typically, when we read or look at a screen, our blink rate reduces by up to 60%.
Beyond limiting the amount of time your child spends behind a screen, it’s equally important to regulate device usage before bedtime. It is known that using electronic devices before going to bed has negative effects on sleep, including one’s ability to fall asleep and to obtain quality sleep. This is primarily due to the high energy artificial blue light that’s emitted by electronic devices. Blue light exposure helps regulate the production of melatonin; a hormone that affects our circadian rhythm or sleep patterns. It’s important to develop positive routines with your child, such as committing to abstain from using electronic devices at least one hour before going to sleep. In cases where compliance is an issue, removing electronic devices from your child’s bedroom may be warranted.
Trying to spot vision problems?
Although it’s best advised to have an optometrist professionally evaluate your child’s vision by undergoing regular eye exams, there are some signs that may suggest your child has issues with their vision. One of the biggest ones is related to reading. If your child tends to lose their place while reading, or if they rely on using a finger to read, this may suggest they’re having issues of focus or convergence.
Another possible sign of a potential vision issue is related to head tilting. Your child tilting their head to the side could be a sign of them experiencing double vision. Tilting the head can help reduce the symptom of double vision (a.k.a. diplopia). In other cases, if your child is looking side to side, it could be a sign of astigmatism, another potential cause of diplopia.
Eye rubbing and experiencing light sensitivity can be other signs of potential vision issues. Children experiencing light sensitivity will often avoid going outside and report that the sun hurts their eyes, or close one of their eyes when out in the sun. Exposure to natural light is important as a lack of outdoor activity has been correlated to developing myopia.
These are just general observable patterns that may suggest that your child may be experiencing a vision problem, besides the obvious squinting. Nevertheless, you should restrain from making any firm assumptions and instead seek a comprehensive eye and vision assessment by an optometrist.
Have Yearly Eye Exams with An Eye Care Professional
As discussed, it’s much more advised to get a professional assessment from an optometrist rather than coming to conclusions simply based on behaviors you’ve observed in your child. Be proactive about your child’s eye health and vision by scheduling routine yearly exams. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommend infants get their first exam by age 6 months, then again at the age of 3. School age children should undergo eye exams annually. It should be noted that school screenings are meant to identify those children most-at-risk, and do not provide any assessment of the overall health of your child’s eyes.
Encouraging Strong Visual Development
Generally, toys and tasks that improve motor and eye-hand coordination skills have a positive effect on children’s vision. Some of these toys include building or linking blocks, puzzles, drawing tools, finger paints, and toys with high visual contrast. The added benefit of these activities is that they don’t involve electronic devices, which can provide further relief from the negative effects caused by screen exposure.
Providing your child with proper meals and nutrition has a multitude of effects on their learning and development – but it can also positively affect eye health. Foods with the most positive effect on vision are ones that are rich in key antioxidants and nutrients (e.g. vitamins A,C, and E, zinc, omega-3 and lutein). Nurturing proper eating habits can go a long way in the entirety of your child’s life, as a poor diet can affect weight, heart health, and lead to Type 2 diabetes, cancer, immune disorders, among others.
Eye Resting Habits
No matter how many precautions you can take to limit electronic device usage, the exposure will in some cases be inevitable. That’s why it’s important to develop good eye resting habits to help reduce these effects.
The best habit to reduce eyestrain (a.k.a. asthenopia) is known as the 20-20-20 rule. This habit involves looking away from device screens every 20 minutes, by looking at something about 20 feet away, for 20 about seconds.
These are just a few handy tips and recommendations that you can take into action, to have a positive effect on your child’s vision and ultimately their learning and growth. To gain an even more comprehensive understanding of positive habits and routines related to vision, and to proactively monitor your child’s eye health, it’s important to consult with an optometrist and to have your child undergo regular eye exams.
We now have many treatment options at our disposal to control the growing epidemic of myopia or nearsightedness. Find out what technique is best for your child by booking their appointment with Dr. Sciberras, Mississauga’s Top-Rated Pediatric Optometrist in 2019.