Optometry Queensland & Northern Territory has urged parents to take their children for a comprehensive eye examination to give them their best start for school.
OQNT says one in five Australian children suffers from an undetected vision problem which couldimpact their educational and social development, so their Smart Eye Start initiative encourages parents of children starting Prep and Year 7 to take them for in-depth eye testing.
Beaudesert optometrist Mark Smith from Scenic Rim Optometrists said it was a good idea to have children's eyes tested to check their development and make sure there were no underlying problems.
Mr Smith said excessive screen use could cause vision problems in children.
"The less screen time the better, in my opinion," he said.
"Children under the age of five should not be sitting in front of a screen for more than I would say an hour in a day.
"I think they would be better off doing craft based activities or being outdoors and looking into the far distance."
Mr Smith said focussing little eyes up close could stunt development of distance vision and lead to short-sightedness (myopia).
"Spending too much time focussing up close, the brain gets used to that and sees it as normal, so distance vision may not develop as it should."
OQNT president Marissa Megaloconomos said screens had been vital for families during the COVID-19 health crisis.
"Screens have been vital ... from maintaining connections with loved ones, to home schooling and working from home," she said.
"We're acutely aware of the challenges faced by parents. Given the way our world has changed, it's important to understand the benefits of balancing this screen time with green time (unstructured, outdoor play)."
Ms Megaloconomos said green time offered a much-needed break for little eyes that tire from extended periods of close-up focus.
Too much screen time could also cause eye fatigue, blurry vision and dry eyes which - if left untreated - could lead to significant eye problems, and even impact the child's ability to learn.
Ms Megaloconomos cited a University of NSW study which last week found four hours or more of screen time per day couldhave a negative impact on a child's school performance.
"Interestingly, this UNSW study found kids who spent four hours or more on devices per day were 15 per cent less likely to attain a high NAPLAN reading score and 17 per cent less likely to obtain a high numeracy score, reinforcing how critical it is to balance our kids' time spent on electronic devices.
"Sun exposure is another important consideration for parents. So, while we're encouraging green time for children, it's crucial their eyes are protected from harsh UV rays.
"A recent survey found that only 40 per cent of Australian kids have a pair of UV-protective sunglasses. With potential side effects of excessive UV exposure including cancers and cataracts, this statistic is concerning.
"We urge parents to prioritise their children's eyes and think of UV-protective sunglasses as an absolutely essential item when spending time outdoors, much like a hat and sunscreen."
Ms Megaloconomos Marissa said many children did not speak upabout their eyes because they did not recognise a problem, assuming others saw the same way they do.
Affected children could experience undetected eye strain, blurred vision, headaches, and a lack of concentration which could lead to poor performance in the classroom.
"Our message for parents is, don't wait for your child to voice concerns - be proactive and take them for a comprehensive eye exam prior to starting Prep and again before Year 7.
Schools and kindergartens can access further information on OQNT's Smart Eye Start initiative, and sign up to be involved at optometryqldnt.org.au/smart-eye-start.
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