“Would you stop reading for once?!” What parent would ever say that—right? Wrong!
Dr. Melissa Barnett of the California Optometric Association says excessive reading can cause problems with the eyes called “accommodation problems.” These happen after the focusing system in the eyes “lock in” to the same thing over and over again. Your child can also develop computer vision syndrome (CVS) from prolonged computer use. “Headaches, eyestrain, neck and shoulder pain and dry eyes are also common problems that can occur from reading too much, even in kids,” Dr. Barnett says.
That's why when it comes to reading, there can be too much of a good thing. And when your kid has vision problems, her education and participation in sports can suffer. Dr. Barnett points out that as much as 80 percent of the learning a child does occurs through the eyes.
These tips can help prevent vision problems for kids:
Tell your kid to look away at a distant object periodically while reading or using a screen, which allows the muscles that control the eye to relax and the eye to “reset.” Follow the “10-10-10 rule.” Every 10 minutes, look at something at least 10 feet away, for at least 10 seconds. If your bookworm has trouble following the rule herself, set a timer to go off every 10 minutes while she reads or does homework.
Research shows that kids who spend more time outside are less likely to become nearsighted, even if their parents are nearsighted, and even if they read a lot. Encourage your book lover to go outside at least once daily, and do so yourself! Take a family walk in the evening if you recognize that rarely going outside is our family's problem.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Believe it or not, being overweight or obese puts your child at a much greater risk for vision loss due to conditions like glaucoma or diabetic eye disease. Talk to your pediatrician if you are finding it difficult to keep your kid healthy. Intervene early!
It sounds too obvious, right? People blink without thinking about it, but you should teach your budding bibliophile to occasionally blink very tightly for a full two seconds. This further relaxes the muscles around the eyes and keeps them loose.
Eat for Eye Health
We've all heard that carrots help your eyes. Well, they really do, and so does a diet full of other fruits and vegetables. Dark, leafy greens like collard greens, kale and spinach are great for eye health, as are foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids: halibut, salmon and tuna. Healthy eyes are just one more reason to eat right.
See an Optometrist
Keep in mind that a vision screening by a pediatrician or at school is not the same as a comprehensive eye and vision examination by an optometrist. Vision screenings are tools used to show a need for further evaluation. Make sure you get your child screened starting at age 3 unless a special case warrants an earlier exam. From there, exams are usually recommended every one or two years.
Know Your Family History
Many eye conditions are hereditary, and knowing about them lets your optometrist screen your child's eyes properly. Talk to family members about their eye health so you can better help your kid with hers.
Limit Screen Time
Make sure your kid doesn’t spend countless hours in front of the computer, TV or smartphone. The list of negative effects of too much screen time is exhaustive: irregular sleep patterns, lack of creativity, early childhood aggression, body image issues, academic difficulty, unhealthy weight gain and plenty more. At a minimum, ensure that screen time is set in between activities that give the eyes a break.
We all want our kids to love reading. Looking at the big picture, having a kid who reads too much isn’t the worst problem to have. But don't forget to protect your child's vision and health too.
It’s not always easy to detect vision problems in young people. Dr. Barnett offers this list of symptoms and encourages parents to keep an “eye” on their children’s behavior.
- Frequent eye rubbing or blinking
- Short attention span
- Avoiding reading and other close-up activities
- Frequent headaches
- Covering one eye
- Tilting the head to one side
- Holding reading materials close to the face
- An eye turning in or out
- Seeing double
- Losing place when reading
- Difficulty remembering what he or she read