Parents of children with myopia face obstacles in encouraging outdoor time. Discover successful practical strategies that can help prevent or slow down myopia progression.
It's spring. Parents of children with myopia eagerly anticipate their children spending more time outdoors, taking in the fresh air, and getting active. However, a recent online survey that we, ClearSight Health, have conducted revealed that parents of children with myopia face numerous obstacles when trying to encourage outdoor playtime, despite the extended hours of daylight.
Myopia, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in children, has become increasingly prevalent, causing concern among parents. If left untreated, myopia can increase the likelihood of severe visual complications such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, or retinal detachment.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology's Refractive Errors Preferred Practice Pattern 2022 highlighted the importance of spending more time outdoors and summarized that "increasing time spent outdoors significantly decreased risk of myopic progression."1 This reinforces the need for parents to help their children engage in outdoor activities.
So, what can parents do to overcome these obstacles? Let's explore some potential solutions to this problem.
Main obstacles to getting more outdoor time
A recent small online survey conducted in March 2023 with 95 responses identified the main obstacles that parents face.2 The survey results revealed that conflicting schedules and after-school activities were the most significant obstacle, accounting for 31% of responses. Many parents struggle with competing priorities for their children, making it challenging to get sufficient outdoor time.
Another major hurdle was children's preference for near-vision activities and digital devices, with 24% of responses. Children are becoming increasingly sedentary and preferring to engage in activities that involve screens rather than spending time outside. However, it's important to note that this group also includes children who enjoy reading great books and immerse in their minds in virtual adventures.
Weather-related barriers, such as rain, were reported as a significant challenge, accounting for 24% of responses. Inclement weather can make it challenging to play outside. Additionally, some parents are unaware that even on cloudy or rainy days, the brightness is sufficient to help prevent myopia from progressing.
Other obstacles identified in the survey include working parents unable to find time to take their kids out (9%), safety concerns when children are unsupervised (9%), and health reasons or the lack of nearby outdoor play areas (3%). These obstacles contribute to parents finding it challenging to encourage their children to engage in outdoor activities.
Practical strategies for more outdoor time for kids
As mentioned earlier, the obstacles to children's outdoor activities are conflicting schedules and activities after school, the preference for near-vision activities, digital devices, weather-related barriers, and others. Below are practical ideas that parents reported to have helped them mitigate these challenges. 2
A. Conflicting schedules and activities after school
Conflicting schedules and activities after school can be difficult to overcome, but some successful ideas include ways to find opportunities throughout the day or to plan more outdoor-based activities. They include:
- Taking a morning walk to school or going to the school bus stop earlier to get some daylight before the school day starts.
- Having lunch and recess outside as the benefit is cumulative.
- Eating meals outdoors at home when the weather permits, e.g., dinner on the patio
- Encouraging children to participate in outdoor after-school activities like baseball, soccer, or scout programs instead of indoor-based activities.
- Planning family outdoor weekend activities, such as hiking, BBQ, or camping.
B. Preference for digital device use and near-vision activities
The preference for digital devices and near-vision activities competes with outdoor time. Here are some successful strategies parents reported:
- Harnessing group power to encourage outdoor play by forming a neighborhood play group where children can play together outside consistently after school.
- Setting limits on digital device usage, such as allowing 30 minutes to one hour of screen time per day or no screen time on certain days.
- Assigning children to chores that are outdoor like lawn mowing, gardening, car washing, etc.
- Banking outdoor time for the right to use digital devices. (Learn how an outdoor activity tracker can help.)
C. Weather-related barriers
Even though weather-related barriers in spring and summer are not as challenging as in winter, rainy or dark cloudy days can still be challenging. Here are some strategies that parents can consider:
- Providing rain gear such as raincoats, pants, and boots to keep children dry and comfortable while walking around the neighborhood or exploring nature in the rain.
- Incorporating indoor activities encouraging children to engage with nature, such as indoor gardening or bird watching through a large window.
- Setting up an activity room with large windows and good lighting, or even adding a sunroom, for children to play or carry out activities.
- Realizing that there is still sufficient daylight on a rainy or cloudy day and making plans accordingly.
D. Other obstacles
Other obstacles that parents reported were working parents unable to find time to take their children outside, safety concerns, health reasons, and lack of nearby outdoor play areas. Some of the ideas above can be adapted, and additional ideas are as follows.
- Making up additional time during weekends when parents have more free time to take their children outdoors, including visiting botanical gardens, countryside, or wildlife sanctuaries.
- Forming a playgroup with other parents and always having someone to supervise children to ensure safety.
- Engaging in activities in a sunroom or a well lite room. Getting more daylight while keeping the allergen out.
In sum, parents of children with myopia face numerous obstacles when encouraging outdoor playtime. These obstacles include conflicting schedules and after-school activities, the preference for digital devices and near-vision activities, weather-related barriers, and more. However, by planning and encouraging outdoor time, harnessing group power, setting time limits on myopigenic activities, and providing protection from the elements or allergens, parents can help their children experience the benefits of outdoor activities, including preventing myopia progression.
Let's make outdoor activities a priority for our children. As my son likes to say, "Daddy, let's go out and play, you can help keep my myopia at bay!"
For more tips and information on managing your child's myopia, join our Facebook group and check out our Pinterest board:
Facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/myopia/
Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/clearsightcorner/
1. Jacobs, Deborah S et al. “Refractive Errors Preferred Practice Pattern®.” Ophthalmology vol. 130,3 (2023): P1-P60.
2. Data on file. ClearSight Health 2023.