Swope Health

Time to think about your child’s vision

Checking the calendar, you’ll find that June, May and August all have sponsors calling for Child Vision Awareness, or Children’s Eye Health and Safety, or Healthy Vision month. This looks like a good time to focus in on children’s vision care.

After all, summer months bring a change of perspective as kids spend time in places other than the classroom – whether that’s outdoors in bright sunshine or indoors in front of a screen. Kids probably aren’t thinking about their vision, but you should.

“Kids can have vision problems and not realize it,” says Dr. Vincent Parsons, Swope Health’s chair of optometry. “And even minor vision problems can lead to impacts in learning, reading, developing social skills and reaching their full potential.”

That’s why Swope Health, the American Optometric Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other professional and public health agencies recommend annual eye exams.

Another reason is the stress we inflict on our eyes – at all ages – by staring at screens aglow with videos, games, social media posts and so much more. Optometrists know this can produce what’s called “digital eye strain” or computer vision syndrome. This is a series of vision-related problems like eyestrain and blurred vision resulting from too much time in front of a computer, tablet, reader or mobile phone.

Digital eye strain can cause itchy eyes, Dr. Parsons noted, because staring at the screen makes the eyes work harder and can suppress the normal blink reflex, which acts to spread tears across the surface of the eye. Without keeping the eyes moist, they can dry out and feel scratchy.

“I get more complaints about dry eyes in children now than ever in my 30-plus years of practice,” Dr. Parsons said.

How can you tell if your kids are getting too much screen time?

Start with the guidelines: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends one hour of screen time a day as enough for children 2 to 12, and two hours a day is acceptable for teens and adults. Children under two shouldn’t have any screen time.

If your kids are using the screen more than those guidelines, watch for these signs:

  • Headache
  • Blurry eyes
  • Foggy brain or trouble focusing
  • Eye strain
  • Sleep issues


Granted, it might be hard to spot some of these. You can also look for related signs:

  • Poor posture
  • Behavior issues
  • Poor core strength
  • Decreased attention span
  • Difficulty in transitioning from one activity to another
  • Less self-control

You can also watch for changes in behavior, like these:

  • Less family interaction
  • Less creative or imagination play
  • Lack of energy
  • Easily distracted
  • Wanting more screen time
  • Moodiness or Increased frustration

What you can do

All of these factors demonstrate the many ways our society’s preoccupation with digital screens affect us, in ways beyond the stress to our vision, Dr. Parsons noted.

For example, the American Optometric Association notes that too much screen time can affect a child’s vocabulary and communication skills, leading to lower developmental readiness.

It’s worth taking to heart the guidance from pediatricians and optometrists to build a plan for your family’s use. For example, set up screen-free areas (like at the dinner table) and specific screen-free family times (walks, outdoor games, reading, etc.) Be sure to incorporate physical activity to make up for the lack of movement while using most digital media. Taking breaks from the screens is the No. 1 step.

And don’t forget to schedule an eye examination for the kids. Be sure to let the eye doctor know if your child exhibits any of the symptoms of too much screen time or any other vision problems.

Swope Health can coordinate your healthcare needs and make scheduling easy. Plan a back-to-school vision check-up at the same time you schedule a physical, immunization check-up, or dental exam for your kids. Call 816-923-5800 for your appointments.





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