10 Tips for Buying Kids' Eyewear

If you're a parent in search of the right pair of eyeglasses for your child, you probably know that walking into an optical store can be confusing. There is no shortage of children's eyeglass frames. The problem is: how do you figure out which ones: a) your child will be willing to wear; and b) will last longer than the ride home?

To begin with, most children who need eyeglasses are either nearsighted or farsighted. Depending on the degree of visual correction necessary, your eye doctor will prescribe glasses for full- or part-time wear.

Some kids will be instructed to take their eyeglasses off for schoolwork, while others need to have them on every waking moment.

Sometimes the eye doctor will make specific recommendations about suitable eyeglass frames; but more often that decision is left up to you, your child and the optical dispenser who fits the glasses.

Here are 10 items to consider to make your trip to the optical shop an enjoyable experience and to ensure that you get children's glasses that will endure.

1. Lens Thickness

The eyeglass prescription is always the primary consideration in choosing glasses. Before you start looking for the frames, consult with the optician about lens considerations.

If the prescription calls for strong lenses that are likely to be thick, it is important to keep the frames as small as possible to reduce the final lens thickness. Also, smaller lenses tend to have fewer higher-order aberrations near the edge of the lens than large lenses of the same material and prescription, so there is less risk of blurred or distorted peripheral vision.

2. Fashion Forward

Whether they are full- or part-time eyeglass wearers, most kids get at least a little teasing about their specs, especially the first time they wear them. So it's very important that they avoid frames that make them look "uncool." You also should steer your child away from frames that clearly are objectionable, too expensive or inappropriate.

Just keep in mind that the real object is to get your child to wear the glasses. Extra enticement may be found in ultra cool features like photochromic lenses with tints that darken outdoors, which may help inspire any child to want to wear glasses.

3. Plastic or Metal?

Children's frames are made of either plastic or metal and many have styles that intentionally mimic unisex eyeglass frames designed for adults. Kids often are attracted to these styles because they look more grown-up. It's not unusual for kids to ask for glasses that look just like Mom's or Dad's.

In the past, plastic frames were a better choice for children because they were considered more durable, less likely to be bent or broken, lighter in weight and less expensive. But now, manufacturers are making metal frames that incorporate these features as well. Metal composition varies, so ask the optician which one is best for your child, based on experience with different alloys.

Ask for hypoallergenic materials if your child has shown sensitivity to certain substances. For example, some people are allergic to frame alloys that contain nickel.

4. Proper Bridge Fit

One of the toughest parts about choosing suitable frames for young children is that their noses are not fully developed, so they don't have a bridge to prevent plastic frames from sliding down. Metal frames, however, usually are made with adjustable nose pads, so they fit everyone's bridge.

Most manufacturers recognize this difficulty with plastic frames and make their bridges to fit small noses.

Each frame must be evaluated individually to make sure it fits the bridge. If any gaps exist between the bridge of the frame and the bridge of the nose, the weight of the lenses will cause the glasses to slide, no matter how well the frame seems to fit before the lenses are made.

It's important that the glasses stay in place; otherwise kids tend to look over the top of the lenses instead of pushing their glasses back up where they belong. An optician usually is the best judge of whether a frame fits properly.

5. The Right Temple Style

Temples that wrap all the way around the back of the ear help keep glasses from sliding down or dropping off a child's face completely.

Dilli Dalli style Half Pint, shown in pink. Click here to see close-ups of more colors.

For babies and toddlers, this Dilli Dalli frame called "Half Pint" has cable temples that wrap snugly around the ears to hold eyeglasses in place. Please click on the image for a close-up of this and other available Dilli Dalli styles.

These wraparound temples, called "cable temples," generally are available on metal frames and are especially helpful to keep glasses in place on toddlers.

Another option is a strap that goes around the head.

Eyeglasses with cable temples and/or straps are not a good choice for part-time wearers, however, because they are a bit more awkward to put on and take off. For glasses that go on and off frequently, it is better to have regular, or "skull," temples that go straight back and then curve gently around the back of the ear.

6. Spring Hinges

A nice feature to look for is temples with spring hinges. These special hinges allow the temples to flex outward, away from the frames, without causing any damage. Although they sometimes cost a bit more, spring hinges can be a worthwhile investment for children's eyewear.

Kids are not always careful when they put on and take off glasses, and spring hinges can help prevent the need for frequent adjustments and costly repairs. They also come in handy if the child falls asleep with the glasses on or just has a rough day at play. Spring hinges are strongly recommended for toddlers, who sometimes get carried away playing with their new glasses.

7. Lens Material

Once you and your child agree on frames that you both like, the next consideration is the lenses.

Cute frame styles for boys and girls.

Children's lenses should be made of polycarbonate or Trivex. These materials are significantly more impact-resistant than other lens materials for added safety. Polycarbonate and Trivex lenses also are significantly lighter than regular plastic lenses, which makes the eyewear more comfortable — especially for strong prescriptions.

Polycarbonate and Trivex have built-in protection against potentially damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays, and the lenses are scratch-resistant coated by the manufacturer or fabrication lab.

The price for polycarbonate lenses generally is comparable to the cost for regular plastic lenses with UV and scratch-resistant coatings. And with polycarbonate, kids get that extra margin of safety to protect their eyes. Keep in mind that Trivex lenses may cost a little more than polycarbonate.

The least desirable material for your child's lenses is glass. Although it must be treated for impact resistance, glass still shatters when it breaks, and broken glass — even safety glass — is a hazard to the eye. Glass lenses also are significantly heavier, which makes them less comfortable to wear.

Because of safety and liability issues, most optical stores in the United States do not sell children's eyewear with glass lenses.

8. Sports Eyewear

Polycarbonate is such a safe lens material that you may be tempted to let your child play sports in his regular glasses.

Here's the drawback: Although polycarbonate is the lens material used for sports eyewear, regular eyeglass frames do not provide enough protection from large objects such as balls and flying elbows. So if your kid is involved in sports, a proper sports goggle with polycarbonate lenses will provide the best protection against eye injury.

To provide optimum protection, sports goggles must be fitted properly — so consult with an eye care professional before making a purchase. Although it sounds counter-intuitive, a sports goggle should have a larger vertical eye opening, rather than a smaller one. If an impact should occur and the goggles are pushed toward the face, a large eye opening keeps the impact points far above and below the eyes. With a small opening, however, the goggle hits right at the edge of the eye socket, which can damage the globe of the eye.

9. Warranties

Many optical retailers offer a warranty plan that will replace eyewear at no charge or for a small fee in case of damage to the frames or lenses. Consider opting for the warranty, especially if your child is a toddler or a first-time wearer.

Be aware, however, that not all warranty plans are the same. Check lens replacement costs with and without the warranty plan. Generally, if the warranty costs you less or about the same amount as the fee to replace one single lens, it is worth the price.

Make sure the lens warranty includes a replacement provision if the lenses become badly scratched from normal wear. In addition to causing glare and blurred vision, surface scratches can compromise the impact resistance of the lenses, putting your child's eyes at risk.

Fun colors and patterns make these new Lucky Brand Kids frames particularly appealing. This frame style, the Willow, can be purchased with engraved fairytale dragons and peace signs.

Fun colors and patterns make these new Lucky Brand Kids frames particularly appealing. This frame style, the Willow, can be purchased with engraved fairytale dragons and peace signs. Please click on the image for close-up photos of Willow and other styles.

10. Backup Pair

Because children can be tough on their eyewear, it's always a good idea to purchase a second, or backup, pair of eyeglasses for them. This especially is true if your child has a strong prescription and cannot function without his or her glasses.

Ask your optician if special discounts apply for second pairs — they often do if the backup pair is purchased at the same time as the primary pair. In some cases, sports goggles can be used as a spare pair of glasses. Or, if your child's prescription has not changed significantly, keep his or her previous eyeglasses in a safe place for use as a spare.

If your child wears glasses full time (including outdoors), photochromic lenses or prescription sunglasses also should be considered to decrease glare, increase visual comfort and provide 100 percent protection from the sun's harmful UV rays.

To reduce costs, ask your optician if the lenses in your child's previous glasses can be tinted to transform them into sunglasses. If the prescription is essentially the same as your child's current glasses, this is a viable option to purchasing a new pair of prescription sunglasses.