The childhood visual environment

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The childhood visual environment includes considering what kids do with their eyes and how much time they spend both indoors and outdoors. For detailed blogs on the why and how of outdoor time benefits and screen time management, read more in How much time should my child spend outdoors? and Close work and screen time in kids. This blog serves as a summary of both.

Outdoor time

There are three key rules for the childhood visual environment – outdoors which are important for both reducing the risk of a child becoming myopic (short-sighted) as well as reducing the risk of fast progression, or worsening, once a child is myopic.

  1. Spend at least 90 minutes a day outdoors
  2. Don’t forget sun protection – hats, sunglasses and shade
  3. Be physically active for least 60 minutes a day

Aside from the vision benefits, there are numerous physical and psychological benefits to children getting outdoors and especially into nature. Shockingly, a 2016 survey (link) found that three quarters of UK children spent less time outdoors than prison inmates, with 20% never playing outdoors on a regular basis. 

The benefits of outdoor time don’t appear to be about physical activity, though – it’s likely the brightness of the light which protects the young eye from growing too quickly into short-sightedness. For more information about the benefits of outdoor time, why it is protective against development and progression of myopia, new technology to manage this and advice on what you can do, read Send your kids outdoors!

Screen and reading time

There are three key rules for the childhood visual environment – indoors, which are important for both reducing the risk of a child becoming myopic (short-sighted) as well as reducing the risk of fast progression, or worsening, once a child is myopic. When it comes to healthy visual development, the greatest evil of screens may not be the screen itself – it may be more how closely it’s held and the duration of use.

  1. Take regular breaks from reading – the 20/20 rule
  2. Don’t hold reading material or screens too close – the elbow rule
  3. Try to limit leisure screen time to two hours per day in school aged children.

THE ELBOW RULE is where your child should try to keep an elbow-to-wrist distance between anything they are viewing up close, and their eyes. Try it yourself, and show them at home – make a fist, put it next to your eyes, and where your elbow sits is the closest any screen or book should get to your eyes when reading. 

THE 20/20 RULE is where you child aims to take a break from reading every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds. He or she should look across the room for that 20 seconds, to relax the focussing muscles in the eyes before recommencing reading or screen time. This can be managed as a break between book chapters, between Netflix episodes for tweens and teens, or timers set for younger children.

For more information on what to do about screen time habits, including government recommendations on childhood screen time, read Close Work and Screen Time.

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