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AOA: Nintendo 3DS May Be Fine For Kids Under Six

As CES 2011 assumed control of the vertical and horizontal last week, the American Optometric Association quietly issued a press statement suggesting kids six and under can play Nintendo's 3DS as long as their visual system is developing normally. The note comes on the heels of Nintendo America president Reggie Fils-Aime's warning that "very young children" avoid viewing 3D images.

In fact the AOA suggests 3D devices like the 3DS may actually help in the hunt to uncover correctible visual disorders early in life.

It's not enough to have 20/20 vision, says the AOA, highlighting related factors like eye alignment and uniform eye focusing power. Deficiencies in either of these can fatigue the eyes and inhibit 3D viewing, as well as causing "loss of place" when reading, reading comprehension reduction, and lead to "increased frustration at school," with commensurate performance declines.

Enter 3D movies, television, and Nintendo's 3DS. If children experience "discomfort" while viewing 3D in these venues or have difficulty recognizing the 3D effect, the AOA believes it could help identify visual disorders that might otherwise go undetected. Disorders like: Eye misalignment, crossed eyes, eyes turned outward, significantly mismatched eye power, or farsightedness.

What's that? A great disturbance in the doctor-patient ratio? As if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and weren't silenced? Is the Nintendo 3DS--due in Japan this February and the U.S. in March--about to trigger a rash of panicked parental eye checkups for marginally symptomatic kids?

Who knows, but the AOA disregards preliminary screenings at schools or in pediatricians' offices, which it says "cannot substitute" for the sort of "comprehensive eye exams" offered by optometrists to detect and treat visual problems.

Of Nintendo's warning that kid under six shouldn't use the 3DS in 3D mode, the AOA errs on the side of caution. Children should use devices like the 3DS in moderation, it says (common sense advice in any event), adding that even children younger than six should be able to use a device like the 3DS in 3D mode as long as their visual system is "developing normally."

Can 3D wreck your eyes? The jury's still out. We're early days on actionable scientific research. All we can do is be mindful of data already available and reasonably cautious, most of all with young children, who depend on us to know what's safe and what's not.

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