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Kids who wear glasses feel worse about themselves, studies find

While the nasty term "four-eyes" may be a relic of the past, negative stereotypes around wearing eyeglasses are very much alive in the minds of children.

A new meta-analysis of 20 years of child psychology studies has found not only that kids link glasses with negative traits, they might also fear being bullied because of wearing them.

"The results indicate that it makes sense to intervene and help children with eyeglasses feel more positive about themselves," lead author Francine Jellesma, an assistant professor of child development and education at the University of Amsterdam, writes in an online version of the study.

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The paper was published by the European Journal of Developmental Psychology.

In one 1993 study, five- to nine-year-olds looked at pictures of children with and without glasses. Those with glasses were deemed "worse looking" and those without were called "prettier."

In another study by the same researchers, kids were asked if they thought the bespectacled children in photos were cute, friendly, well-behaved and did well in school – and whether they would befriend them. The results, again, were mostly negative, with the kids even saying those with glasses were likely to do worse in school. Researchers found one exception: Girls rated children with glasses as more friendly.

In a more recent study from 2008 that Jellesma points to, eyeglasses were associated with being smart by six- to 10-year-olds. Other studies found that when children are asked to draw scientists or intelligent people, they accessorize the faces with eyeglasses.

Of course those findings seem to contradict the study about perceived school performance. "Children may feel that vision problems can hinder school performance," Jellesma writes. "The smartness question perhaps was a more valid question to address ideas about intelligence."

Whatever the case, children who wear glasses do worry about how they appear to others.

And when kids are given contact lenses to replace their glasses, they become more satisfied and report feeling better about their appearance. A 2007 study found that eight- to 11-year-olds wearing contacts over three years felt more attractive and athletically competent.

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So it's not surprising that research also shows that as kids get older, they skip wearing their glasses more than younger children and fear being teased.

One explanation, Jellesma writes, is that glasses-wearing children pre-emptively adhere to negative associations because they think they're already being judged.

She's hopeful that the positive stereotypes might be a way to upend that reality.

"It may be possible to foster the self-esteem of spectacle wearers by stressing the smartness stereotype and by showing that others do not necessarily feel negative about glasses."

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About the Author

Tralee Pearce has been a reporter at The Globe and Mail since 1999, starting as a writer in the paper’s Style section. She joined the new Life section for its launch in 2007. She covers parenting and family issues for the daily section. More

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