July 6, 2016 changed the world forever. It was the day that Pokemon GO was unleashed, and we will never be the same. This epic phenomenon captured the attention of kids and adults alike, prompting 45 million human beings to take off on a global wild goose chase. Reports of people sprinting across parking lots, running in front of traffic, driving distractedly, wandering into caves or falling off cliffs have flooded the news. One incident even involved a security incident on an Indonesian military base. Oh, the things we will do to capture those elusive Pokemon.
For some parents, Pokemon GO provides some whimsical enjoyment that they haven’t experienced since the release of the first Atari game system. For others, the hazardous nature of this pastime functions as a modern morality tale to warn their children about the dangers of not paying attention – a modern Aesop fable, of sorts. All this hubbub about Pokemon GO begs the question, “Can this game really be as dangerous as it sounds?”
Some medical doctors are equally concerned about Pokemon GO, especially when it comes to children’s vision. Too much screen time can contribute to digital eye strain. Smartphone screens emit blue light, called High Energy Visible Blue Light, which can interrupt sleep patterns and may do short term damage to photoreceptors in the eyes. Other complaints about digital eye strain include blurred vision, dry eye, sensitivity to light, headaches, difficulty reading small print, and increased risk for nearsightedness.
According to Dr. Mark Jacquot, Clinical Director of LensCrafters, the average user of Pokemon GO spends an average of 26 minutes per day on the game app. He advises parents of children and teens to be aware of their overall screen time and observe the 20-20-20 rule. This means that everyone should take a break every 20 minutes to look 20 feet away for about 20 seconds (Source: Parent Herald).
Another concern about Pokemon GO is increased exposure to UV rays, which is harmful for eyes and skin. Dr. Jacquot advises that all Pokemon GO users apply sunscreen and wear sunglasses with UV 400 protection or higher. He points out that “while the sun can harm eyes of any age, children are more vulnerable to retinal damage from UV rays because their eyes are clearer and they tend to spend more time outdoors than adults. In fact, up to 80 percent of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation can occur by age 20, so it’s important to start protecting children’s eyes early to prevent long-term damage. Many UV-related eye problems don’t develop instantly after exposure, but can lead to problems further down the road.”