Contact lenses: Is your child ready?

Oct 21, 2009 at 12:00 p.m. ET

Even though you think your daughter is adorable in her glasses, she hates them. And you have to admit that you're tired of reminding her to wear them, driving back to school to retrieve them, heading out to the optometrist to adjust them, and crawling on the floor seeking their tiny little screws. So when she asks for contacts for the millionth time, you're starting to think it's time to say yes. What do you need to know?

Grumpy Girl wearing Glasses

For months, my younger daughter whined that she couldn't see. Dedicated parent that I am, I ignored her for, well, months. And then one day I discovered that my husband had opted in to his company's vision plan -- which we were paying for each month -- and I decided I was going to get my money's worth. So off we went to the eye doctor, where my daughter promptly failed her vision test. And I, once again, was not awarded Mother of the Year.

The compliance factor

When she first got her glasses, my daughter was ecstatic. But about four hours later (yes, really), the magic wore off. And ever since then, I am forever finding her glasses around the house, having her glasses adjusted or repaired, reminding her to wear her glasses, and listening to her whine about how much she hates her glasses.

At first I was -- and this may shock you -- unsympathetic. But then one day, she told me she hates her glasses because they make her look ugly. My daughter is eight. She is in the fourth grade. And it turns out, she's hardly the first child this young to suffer low self esteem because of her glasses.
"Studies show that children, some as young as eight years old, who wear contact lenses feel better about their physical appearance, acceptance among friends, and their ability to play sports than children who wear glasses," says Graham Erickson, O.D., and Chair of the American Optometric Association (AOA) Sports Vision Section.
And age isn't really the deciding factor in readiness -- it's really about maturity and motivation.

Caring for contact lenses

Children who wear contacts need to be able to keep them clean, insert them gently, and remove and store them properly. It does take a certain amount of responsibility, but remember that kids are far less likely to take their lenses out and forget them at school/a friend's house/a restaurant or wherever else they go. Disposable lenses that are worn for a period of time and discarded can be a good solution for some kids -- although the lenses can be costly.
"Doctors will typically evaluate a child's maturity and level of parental support in determining if they are ready for contact lenses, and will work with parents to choose which contact lens option is the best fit for that child," says Dr. Erickson.

Questions to ask

A couple of questions you can ask yourself to determine whether your child might be ready for contacts:
  1. Do glasses make your child really unhappy? If so, your child may be motivated to care properly for contacts, and the boost in self-esteem will help him or her do better overall. 
  2. Does your child remember to wash hands and brush teeth without reminders? Kids who can't remember to remove lenses when necessary and clean them properly probably aren't ready -- unless you can provide the necessary support.
  3. Is your child generally responsible? Motivation can help here. If your child really wants the lenses, you may notice a change in behavior.
If your child approaches you about contacts, make an appointment with the eye doctor so that everyone can voice questions and concerns. Work together to come up with a solution that makes everyone happy.
Tell us: When did your child make the switch to contact lenses? Comment below!

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