A Generation of Nearsighted Nerds?

Amidst all the busy-ness of the holidays, did you catch the news last week? A study conducted by the National Eye Institute was released, and it showed that nearsightedness has increased in the U.S. population 66% since the 1970’s. Not good news, considering it costs about $3.8 billion a year to treat poor-distance vision, which goes up by another $1 billion for every 12% increase.  The lead author of the study said that the likely cause is less outdoor time for kids and more time spent in activities requiring close-up viewing, such as text-messaging, playing video games and Web surfing. 

Interestingly, at almost the same time as this story hit the presses, Emmie’s 5th grade class finished a week-long tracking of their own electronic media habits.  “One boy had over 40 hours, 28 in video games alone,” she said.  “I had two.”   Before everyone is amazed at that, keep in mind that her daily after-school schedule doesn’t really have much room for TV or the computer, once homework is finished, piano practicing, and 3 ½ hours working out with the city gymnastics team each night.  But when she does have free time, she usually spends it doing other things.  It helps that we don’t put televisions or computers in our kids’ rooms, and as for video games, we don’t own one—not an X box, or a Wii or a Gameboy or a Playstation 1, 2 or 3.

I think everyone knew, even before nearsightedness was in the news, that it’s not good for kids to fry their brains and fatten their butts by sitting in a chair for hours with electronic media. So why do parents allow it to happen anyway?  One mom I know is so busy, she sees it as a way to occupy her kids to keep them out of her hair.  I say, for the same amount of money that she’s spent on that habit, they could have some fabulous sports equipment that could keep them even busier.  Or they could enroll in the best drama classes (or karate, or art, or indoor rock climbing, etc.) in town.   My friend says I don’t understand because I don’t have boys.  What, like they’re so internally “driven” to play video games, that it fulfills some need, that it can’t be curtailed or controlled?  I think other parents like it because it’s yet another easy way to keep kids at home, “safe and protected”, rather than outside, where they could get into “trouble”.  But I think about a conversation I had while giving a friend’s kid a ride to school one Monday last year, asking him what he did over the weekend, and he said he’d had a great time, that he’d played video games nonstop all day, each day…like he was proud of that.  Is that really the best way to stay out of trouble?

Parents of boys need to be concerned, not just about near-sightedness and childhood obesity, but also about what too much electronic media might be doing to their boys’ social skills.  I would have never thought about this had a boy’s dad not pointed it out to me at a school event four years ago…we were watching my older daughter’s then-5th-grade class from the side as they played on a school field trip. “Just look at those boys,” he said, shaking his head.  “Most of them are so immature…and I think it’s because of all the computer and video games,” he said.  “I mean, my older son’s class was already interested in girls at this point.  Most of these boys are far from that.”  At the time, I thought to myself, “Well, many boy parents would probably breathe a sigh of relief at that statement,” and didn’t think any more about it.  Until recently, when I was at a Christmas party and a 20-something girl was lamenting how she and her friends had to date much older guys because the 20-something males were so immature.  And then I was reminded of a drop-dead-gorgeous 22-year-old female I know who has yet to have a serious boyfriend…

It’s a known fact that girls mature faster than boys, but are video games making the gap even wider? Definitely something for parents to think about this season, in addition to the high cost of vision care, before they allow their kids unlimited access to all their new “toys”…

18 thoughts on “A Generation of Nearsighted Nerds?”

  1. I totally agree on your stance on ‘screens’ — people are amazed that we only have basic basic cable….no fun channels whatsoever, just local & PBS.
    I have encountered a time in my life an alternate POV where I totally think I would allow all the screen time my children wanted. We were having a tag sale & I was selling an old TV and an inner city Mom was buying it to keep her son inside playing video games, away from the gangs, temptations,and truly real & scary trouble outside her windows.

  2. Happy Holidays Pat, to you and the family! Your comments and observations about children’s increased incidents of nearsightedness certainly points out your clearness of vision. I just got a copy of a certain young man’s college Junior year, first semester progress report. He attends one of the nation’s most academically challenging universities. He made all “A”s! This guy was an accomplished athlete throughout his high school years in football, basketball and track. He’s a pretty good chess player and he plays the piano fairly well. He has never had a TV in his room ( He doesn’t have one in his dorm room now) and he has never owned one video game; not one. He’s a pretty good player though since most of his friends own them.

    The bad news; he has a serious female relationship and I am sadly, no longer number one. You think that perhaps if I bought him a video game now…?

  3. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this post. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own blog now. soin.

  4. I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this post. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well. In fact your creative writing abilities has inspired me to start my own blog now. soin.

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