You’ve been told your child needs eyeglasses to correct a vision problem. Then you walk into an optical shop and hit a wall of choices. Here are 10 factors to consider when selecting corrective eyewear for your child.
1. Buy glasses your child likes
Children may feel self-conscious when they first start wearing glasses, and may worry that other kids will be unkind about it. But wearing eyeglasses can be fun and fashionable. Eyeglass frames are available in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and styles. Purchase glasses from a retailer that has a large selection of frames and allow kids to pick glasses they like—so they’ll want to wear them.
2. Fit is important
Kids won’t wear glasses that are uncomfortable, and it’s important that glasses stay in place. Dr. Kimberly Friedman, a past president of the NJ Society of Optometric Physicians, from Moorestown, says, “Glasses should rest comfortably on the nose. Temples should be the right length to reach around the ear to help keep the glasses secure.” For younger children who need to wear their glasses all the time, consider “cable temples” that wrap all the way around the back of the ear; these can help keep glasses from sliding. Spring hinges are another nice feature for children’s glasses. These special hinges allow the temples to flex outward, and are especially good for kids who aren’t always careful when they put on and take off their glasses.
3. Children’s eyeglass lenses should be made of polycarbonate
Polycarbonate lenses are lightweight and impact-resistant so they won’t break easily. In addition, polycarbonate lenses have built-in protection from the sun’s UV rays.
4. Check the warranty policy
“Although no lenses are 100 percent scratchproof, warrantees should cover frame breakage and defects, ” says Dr. Friedman. Warrantees vary by retailer, so ask about the exact coverage policy. Also ask about the cost of getting a spare pair in case your child loses or breaks his glasses; many retailers offer discounts when purchasing multiple pairs.
5. Separate sports goggles are a must in New Jersey
Kids in New Jersey who participate in certain sports and need protective eyewear are prohibited from wearing “street” eyewear on playing fields. This law was developed by the Coalition to Prevent Sports Eye Injuries.
6. Know when your child needs to wear his glasses
Dr. Friedman says, “Although it is not usually a problem if a child wears his glasses all the time, it is better to ask the eye doctor exactly when [i.e. for distance or reading] he should wear them.”
7. Consider contact lenses
Physically, children’s eyes can tolerate contact lenses from a young age. But whether a child is mature enough to handle the responsibility of contact lenses is a different question. If your child feels that she would prefer to wear contact lenses instead of glasses, discuss the option with her and her eye doctor, and make sure your child knows how to insert and remove the lenses properly, and how to clean them or when to replace disposables. Remember, contacts cannot be worn all the time, so your child will still need a pair of eyeglasses.
8. Understand the prescription
Talk to your eye doctor about the prescription so you know which lenses are best. "Stronger prescriptions will require thicker lenses. With thick lenses, it is important that the frames be smaller and rounder to help minimize the final lens thickness," says Dr. Friedman. She notes that sometimes even kids need bifocals or specialty lenses.
9. Plastic or metal frames?
Children’s frames are made of either plastic or metal (wire). In the past, plastic frames were considered better because they were more durable, lighter in weight, and less expensive. But now metal is a good choice as well. Why? Plastic frames sometimes slide on a child’s face (because the bridge of the nose isn’t fully developed), while metal frames usually have an adjustable nose pad so they fit. Metal compositions vary; children who are sensitive to certain metals should select frames made from hypoallergenic materials.
10. Even kids need sunglasses
According to Dr. Friedman, “Sunglasses are not just an ‘adult thing.’ In fact, most of our UV exposure occurs before age 18, and UV exposure has been linked to cataracts, macular degeneration, and skin cancers around the eyes later in life.” Polycarbonate lenses in corrective eyeglasses have UV protection (even if the lenses are clear and not darkening). But all children, regardless of whether they have problems with their vision, should wear UV-protective sunglasses.
Randi Mazzella, mother of three, is a freelance writer from Short Hills, New Jersey.