"Four-eyes." "Specs." "Poindexter."
Chances are, if you wore glasses as a kid, you have had one or more of these insults lobbed in your direction. Kids today have it a little easier. With the popularity of Harry Potter and the rise of "geek culture," wearing glasses is considered less of an adolescent crime than it used to be. But studies show that kids who need prescription eyewear are still often left wishing that they could leave their glasses behind. And research shows it may improve their self-esteem to do so.
A 2010 study of 484 kids, 8 to 11 years old, found that contact lenses improve how children feel about their appearance, their athletic ability and their social status. For the study, kids were randomly assigned to wear either glasses or contact lenses for three years. During that time, researchers checked in with the kids on their opinions about how well they thought they were doing in school, sports and their social circles. They were also asked to evaluate their physical appearance and behavioral conduct.
After three years, researchers found that the kids who had been assigned to wear contacts had significantly higher scores when it came to how they evaluated their physical appearance, athletic competence, academic proficiency and social acceptance.
"Published studies have shown glasses to be associated with negative attributes in areas of self-perception and attractiveness, so it was not surprising that children's physical appearance self-perception benefits from contact lens wear," study co-author Mitchell J. Prinstein, director of clinical physiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in the study.
This research confirmed a 2006 study conducted at the Ohio State University College of Optometry on children between ages of 8 and 11 that found that kids who wore contacts instead of glasses had significantly higher self-esteem, especially girls.
Because they rest right on the eye, rather than on the bridge of the nose, contact lenses offer better vision correction than glasses. Better vision might be the reason that kids feel more confidence both in school and on the ball field. Kids also might be more willing to play sports when wearing contacts rather than glasses that could break, fall off, or get lost.
So what is the right age for kids to get contact lenses? According to a recent survey conducted by the American Optometric Association, 51 percent of optometrists feel that the tween years, ages 10-12 are the best time to introduce kids to contacts, while 23 percent think that it's better to wait until kids are teens. Another 23 percent think that — depending upon the kid — contacts are fine for kids ages 8 and 9.
While self-esteem is a huge factor in deciding whether to get kids glasses or contact lenses, there are other factors that parents and kids need to consider before taking the contacts plunge.
A 2010 study published in the journal Pediatrics looked at the number of children taken to the emergency room each year for complications related to medical devices and found contact lenses to be the cause in 25 percent of cases. Infections and eye abrasions, which can be caused by poor daily hygiene, were the primary issues.
"You have to remember that contact lenses are medical devices, not cosmetics," said Bernard Lepri, O.D., M.S., M.Ed., an optometrist at the Food and Drug Administration. "Like any medical device, contact lenses should be used only if they can be used safely and responsibly. And only under the supervision of your eye care professional."
While the self-confidence boost is important, parents should also factor in a child's motivation, maturity level and daily hygiene habits when considering whether or not contact lenses are the right choice for their kids.
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