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Protecting children's developing eyes and vision

Updated: Feb 13

This article was written by Kayelene Kerr from eSafeKids.

Myopia is an eye health issue that every parent should be aware of. The prevalence of myopia among Australian 12 year old’s has doubled in 6 years.

Over one-third of the world’s population has myopia, and it’s suggested this could increase to 50% by 2050. It is reported myopia will become the primary cause of blindness in the world.

Research from Ireland has shown that children using screens for more than three hours a day were almost four times more likely to have myopia than those spending less than one hour on screens daily. The greatest impact occurring at younger ages, 6 to 7 year olds who were heavy screen users were five times more likely to have myopia than lighter users.

Another recent Chinese study exploring associations between screen exposure in early life and myopia found children exposed to screens before age 3 are more likely to have developed myopia by pre-school age. In another 3 year study Chinese researchers found children given an extra 40 minutes per day of outside activities had 25% less incidences of myopia than children in the control group.

What is Myopia?

Myopia, also known as ‘short-sightedness’ or ‘near-sightedness’ is a common vision condition in which people can see objects clearly that are close up, but words and objects at a distance appear blurry.

Higher levels of myopia are associated with a higher risk of eye disease in adulthood, including:

  • Retinal detachment

  • Glaucoma

  • Myopic macular degeneration

  • Cataracts

What causes Myopia?

It is well documented that both genetic and environmental factors are involved in the development of myopia. Myopia occurs because the eyeball is slightly elongated or the cornea (the clear front part of the eye) is too curved, causing light rays to focus incorrectly on the retina (the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye).

The average age for developing myopia is reducing and the peak years for myopia progression are often in childhood. The development and progression of myopia is influenced by several factors, including:

  • Near work

  • Inadequate time spent outside and lack of exposure to natural sunlight

  • Genetics

Near work

Near work includes using computers, laptops, tablets, smartphone, reading, drawing, writing, craft etc.

Studies have found that people who spend more time using screens tend to have a higher prevalence of myopia compared to those who spend less time using screens. The issue being, some digital devices tend to be held close to the eyes for lengthy durations.

It is important to note that while increased screen time may be a contributing factor to the development of myopia, it is not the only factor.

Time outside

Spending time outdoors is important for overall health and wellbeing. Research has found that spending time outdoors also reduces the chances of developing myopia and may also slow the progression of myopia. It is recommended that children spend at least 90 minutes per day outdoors.


Whilst myopia is often linked to increased near work and decreased time outdoors, it can also be genetic. If a child has short-sighted parent/s they have a greater risk of developing myopia. There is also a link between Asian ethnicity and the development and progression of myopia

The 20-20-20-20-20 Rule

The original 20-20-20 rule dates back to the 1990’s when medical professionals began to see an increase in eye strain from near work. The purpose of the 20-20-20 rule is to remind people to take regular vision breaks. It is a simple way to reduce eye strain and fatigue caused by staring at near work for too long. It helps to relax the eyes and reduce the risk of developing digital eye strain.

Digital eye strain can include:

  • Sore eyes

  • Dry eyes

  • Blurry eyes

  • Itchy eyes

  • Red eyes

  • Pain/pressure in the front of the head

  • Tiredness

  • Inability to focus

In more recent years the increased use of smartphones, computers and tablets by children means teaching this to children from a young age is essential.

20 Every 20 minutes

20 Take a break for 20 seconds

20 Blink your eyes 20 times (Studies show that you blink about one-third as frequently when staring at a screen)

20 Look at something 20 feet away (About 6 metres)

Because I speak to so many children experiencing neck strain and other muscular skeletal issues I encourage children to stretch and move their body while taking an eye break. As such, I've added another 20.

20 Move your body

eSafeKids Resources

eSafeKids has created a range of child friendly posters, you'll find them here. These posters can be printed as A4 or A3.

The elbow rule

It’s important not to sit too close to a computer screen or other reading material. To make sure your child is sitting far enough away, the elbow rule can be applied. The elbow rule ensures that a screen or book is further than the distance between your hand and elbow. To check, make a fist next to your face and extend your elbow towards what you are reading.

Proactive prevention

  • Teach and model taking regular breaks from near work activities.

  • Teach and model the 20-20-20-20-20 Rule from a young age.

  • Spend time outdoors and engage in activities that require focusing on distant objects.

IOS Screen Distance

Starting in iOS 17 and iPadOS 17, Screen Distance is turned on by default for children under 13 in a Family Sharing group. For young people and adults this is still recommended.

The Screen Distance feature in Screen Time uses the camera to detect when you hold your iPhone closer than 30 cm for an extended period, and encourages you to move it further away. Screen Distance can help children engage in healthy viewing habits that can lower their risk of myopia and can give people of all ages the opportunity to reduce digital eyestrain.

  1. Open Settings

  2. Open Screen Time

  3. Locate Screen Distance

  4. Turn Screen Distance on

When the iPhone or iPad is too close Screen Distance will cover the screen with an alert. To remove the alert move your device away from the face and/or tap continue.

Early detection

Myopia can progress quickly in younger children so it’s important to monitor your child’s eye health. Get regular eyes tests so a professional can examine and monitor your child’s vision and eye health. If you child does develops myopia appropriate treatment can be commenced at the earliest possible opportunity.

To learn more about eSafeKids workshops and training visit our services page.

To view our wide range of child friendly resources visit our online shop.

Join the free eSafeKids online Members' Community. It has been created to support and inspire you in your home, school, organisation and/or community setting.

About The Author

Kayelene Kerr is recognised as one of Western Australia’s most experienced specialist providers of Protective Behaviours, Body Safety, Cyber Safety, Digital Wellness and Pornography education workshops. Kayelene is passionate about the prevention of child abuse and sexual exploitation, drawing on over 25 years’ experience of study and law enforcement, investigating sexual crimes, including technology facilitated crimes. Kayelene delivers engaging and sought after prevention education workshops to educate, equip and empower children and young people, and to help support parents, carers, educators and other professionals. Kayelene believes protecting children from harm is a shared responsibility and everyone can play a role in the care, safety and protection of children. Kayelene aims to inspire the trusted adults in children’s lives to tackle sometimes challenging topics.

About eSafeKids

eSafeKids strives to reduce and prevent harm through proactive prevention education, supporting and inspiring parents, carers, educators and other professionals to talk with children, young people and vulnerable adults about protective behaviours, body safety, cyber safety, digital wellness and pornography. eSafeKids is based in Perth, Western Australia.

eSafeKids provides books and resources to teach children about social and emotional intelligence, resilience, empathy, gender equality, consent, body safety, protective behaviours, cyber safety, digital wellness, media literacy, puberty and pornography.

eSafeKids books can support educators teaching protective behaviours and child abuse prevention education that aligns with the Western Australian Curriculum, Australian Curriculum, Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) and National Quality Framework: National Quality Standards (NQS).

Protective Behaviours eSafeKids Perth Western Australia


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