Psychologist Emma Kenny has spoken out about the advantages of contact lenses in children who are suffering from confidence issues due to wearing glasses.
Why is it that children who wear glasses are such an easy target for bullies?
The fact that society today, whether we like it or otherwise, is to a degree, shallow and looks at the external as opposed to the internal. Anything that creates a difference means that people will have an opinion on it. For some children when they go to school for example and they look different from their peers it gives someone an opportunity to use that against them. Not all children who were glasses feel that way, but certainly for some and research shows that some children felt that they were being identified and isolated to a degree because of the fact they wore glasses. Certainly in my own little boy’s case that was how he felt.
Why is it that bullying is more prevalent when you are younger especially in schools?
When we are children, as much as we are taught conscience or expected to have a level of conscience, the truth is it is something that is societally created. As you are growing up, you start to learn these boundaries, understand prejudice and you start to see it educated around why it is inappropriate to use that behaviour. Children aren’t like that, they shouldn’t be like that- they should be developmentally in a place where they are learning all the time. That means for some children, they don’t have that etiquette and it’s more likely that that kind of behaviour is immediate. Also when children are very young they don’t necessarily act out of wanting to or callousness; to be nasty, it’s more reactive, it’s more instinctual. While bullying occurs it is less premeditated and as they grow up they realise that it is not acceptable for the most part and children can grow out of that behaviour.
Can you tell us a bit about the struggles you have faced with your son as he came to need glasses?
When my son was three the doctor noticed a turn in the eye, which I had also noticed but I hadn’t really thought anything of it. I just thought when he got tired that his eye got a bit lazy. We found out that my son had incredibly limited vision in his left eye so he required a very high prescription level. There were two issues- just coming up to four years of age the bridge of his nose wan not very strong. If you look at a lot of children of that age their nose is flat at the top and glasses don’t hang on in the way they should. If there is a prescription in one eye that is really intense and the other eye has almost perfect sight the disparity in the lens and the look of it is quite huge. You have one eye that is hugely magnified and one that is normal. He was devastated by it- firstly he could not turn around without losing his glasses and he felt different to his peers. If you ask him now you can actually recount those feelings. Practically for him they just didn’t feel like their fit and when he saw himself with the magnified eye it was very distressing for him. It wasn’t me looking for lenses it was his distress that made me wonder if there were any alternatives. I went online and found out that there are! It was from that point of view that I came from a very child-centric angle and thought ‘how can I deal with my little boy’s distress?’. Fortunately in America, there is so much research on the effects of wearing lenses both on a physiological level; the impact on they felt but on the self-esteem issues that children faced. So I went through a process at that point with the NHS and the opticians and found a very sympathetic optician. Consequently, my son was fitted with daily contact lenses and it revolutionised his life- he would say to you that it changed his life entirely.
Why do parents not often give their children the choice to wear contact lenses?
If you are anything like me; it doesn’t matter what a great parent you are if you don’t know, you don’t have a choice. The amount of people I have educated on it since my first experience has been huge- so a lot of my children’s friends know that there is that option and a lot of their mum’s have taken that option for their child. It is not for everyone but I think people don’t realise. You go to the optician and are given glasses on the NHS and it’s fantastic. Lots of children are great with glasses- a lot of children use them as a statement certainly a lot in my son’s class do. The girls in particular use this as a fashion statement, if kids have got that sort resilience then great! When I got the opportunity to go on this campaign it was really close to my heart. To get the message out there that contact lenses are not for everyone but if your child is struggling with glasses or if you child is like mine; a competition gymnast and is running around all the time and throwing himself over equipment- glasses don’t work. Although evidence wise you get a really good impact and improvement wearing contact lenses. I don’t think that parents aren’t choosing it, I think it’s much more about not knowing about it. When we looked at the research we found that parents are afraid that there would be issues, that the children would not be responsible enough for their eye care, what I have said is it’s like cleaning your teeth; you get into routine with it and it’s done. They are very clean and very sterile for your children to use. I think a large majority of people would change if they realised that kids feel better when they are given choice and the option to wear contact lenses.
Why do young men in sport get targeted?
There are so many stereotypes! If I look back at my childhood, even back then, like it or not, young men with glasses were less likely to get picked for team games and sports because of the misconception and the pre judgement. We all make assumptions about certain people and stereotypes and schemas are hard to change. For some children who have a lack of confidence which may be linked to wearing glasses, it impacts on the way that they feel in their class making them less able to volunteer for things. That creates a whole predisposed belief that that a child isn’t good in sport- which is utter rubbish of course. From my point of view, children have got so much to contend with because growing up is really hard and we are not even getting to the teenage years. That is why so many people come forward and say that in teenagers contacts make a huge difference to their self-esteem. Research says that when children have the option to wear contact lenses at age 15 and 16, they do. It shows you just how many people felt unhappy wearing glasses. Sport is one thing- if you look different people make assumptions which are not true.
Why does self-esteem and confidence get challenged daily when you are young?
Our children in our western society are now marketed to in every single direction. It’s very important for marketers very early on to make your child feel like they are not that great- then they can encourage them over years to buy products, they believe that they can buy their self-esteem back with these products. It’s not the way they should be going but it’s what our children are faced with. They are not just faced with friendships, personalities, peers, home life, relationships; they are also dealing with a society that very much makes your child feel like they are not that good so they can then go and buy things that will then make them feel better. Children from an early age are told it’s important to look a certain way, to speak a certain way and dress a certain way, and hang out with kids that look cool. This marketing begins very early on in television, in magazines and posters all around so they are confused. Growing up used to be about running around, getting on with your friends and grazing your knees while not really caring what you look like. We have grown into a very materialistic and very image obsessed society and I think our children are products of that micro chasm of experience that they are going through. Growing up is hard but it’s harder today.
Can you tell us a bit about your role on ITV’s Daybreak, Lorraine and this morning?
I think that I have such an honorary role. Whenever I get to talk about a particular subject matter- something close to my heart or about mental health, I am constantly aware that people listen to people in the media and they don’t think beyond that. I think it's a position of responsibility but it’s an incredibly privileged position to be in. Every time I get to do shows or series I am always amazed and thankful that people allow me that opportunity. Is a great chance for me to share my thoughts and feelings but it’s also a position that is very honorary.
Can you tell us a bit about your professional background.
I originally went into psychology- my love is therapy so I went to Manchester University to study in therapy. Even though I am in the media I still go in a couple of days a week into Manchester college where we work with lots of young people who have lots of struggles. I also run my own private consultancy which is trying to encourage people to feel better about themselves and their self-esteem. Therapy has been my life now for 16 years!
You are especially known for your expertise in addressing problems that young people face so why is this something that you are passionate about?
Firstly, I thought that I had a child where everything was fine and then I discovered that he was nearly blind in one eye. As a mum I had to realise that my little boy’s life is not going to be exactly what I imagined, he couldn’t be a pilot for example. There are certain choices that he will have limited because of his sight. Secondly, engaging in that dialogue with him about how upset he used to get wearing his glasses and finding an alternative strategy made me realise that there must be lots of mums and dads out there that feel the same distress for their child and want to do more for their child. To make them feel that they are helping them to survive childhood the best way they possibly can. If I can get a few thousand mums and dads out there to just seek options as opposed to just doing what you think you should do, it’s something that is worthwhile. Children will tell you that the worst thing they can be called in class is fat which proves how much of an image obsessed society we live in. Even though it is not ideal and we would rather our child didn’t have this, that is how it is- so when we look at a child with self-esteem issues anything that can reduce those confidence problems and increase their self-esteem is important. We know that children who don’t have problems with self-esteem have great levels of resilience and that is something that if you have it in life you are going to be ok. I want to convince mums and dads out there who might be struggling that there is a choice. I think it really bad that people like me had to find out for ourselves. I did receive a lot prejudice when I first got into contacts. People were prejudiced because they believed that I wasn’t happy with the way my little boy looked. They didn’t realise where I was operating from was that child centric arena where my son was able to express his unhappiness. As his mother it’s my job to see that I am meeting his needs and in this case it meant finding an alternative to his eye care. My son would sit in a room and say that as far as he is concerned contact lenses have changed his life. If it can be that enormous for a child then it can be that enormous for other people’s children.
What is next for you?
I am just filming a series- Britain’s darkest taboos so I will be doing that in the next few weeks. I am carrying on writing my columns in Closer and all the other magazines that I get involved with. At the moment I am setting up my own company so I am hopefully going to help other people work on their self-esteem a little bit better than we are doing today!
For more information please visit www.acuvue.co.uk