We make sure our kids eat right, get enough sleep, and learn their ABCs. Yet while 65 percent of adults in the U.S. wear sunglasses, only 39 percent make sure their children’s delicate eyes are protected from the sun.
It is believed that our eyes get 80 percent of their total lifetime exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays by age 18. And since prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause significant eye damage to the cornea, retina, and lens — from temporary discomfort to long-term vision problems such as cataracts and cancer — it’s never too early for kids to begin wearing good-quality sunglasses.
Children’s eyes are more susceptible to UV radiation than adult eyes because the lenses inside young eyes are less capable of filtering these high-energy rays. Also, kids spend more time outdoors than most adults do, so sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun’s rays are extra important for children.
How to choose sunglasses for your child:
- Fashion is not important. While adults may choose a pair of sunglasses because they look stylish, the level of UV protection sunglasses provide has nothing to do with the color of the lenses (for either kids or adults). For children, it’s important to pick lenses that block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays, regardless of design.
That being said, if you can, allow your children to pick out the sunglasses themselves. They are more likely to wear them and even enjoy wearing them, if they have had some say in which ones they get. Try to provide a selection of glasses that offer the best protection and let them chose from that group. Sunglasses won’t help much if your child removes them as soon as they are out of your sight.
- Fit is key. While it may be cute to snap a photo of your child in Mommy’s sunglasses, children should be outfitted in frames scaled specifically for their facial dimensions, by a professional staff experienced in fitting children’s eye wear. Children grow quickly, make sure that the glasses still fit them correctly. If last years sunglasses are getting too tight make sure that a pair that fits correctly is available.
- Form follows function. While most sunglass lenses are impact resistant (as required by the FDA), they are most likely not shatterproof. So if your child plays organized sports or is otherwise very active, polycarbonate lenses are a good choice because they are strong, durable, and resist cracking and shattering. The polycarbonate material, which exceeds the FDA’s impact-resistance requirements by over 40 times, is also a natural UV filter, blocking over 99 percent of the sun’s damaging UV rays.
- Kids will be kids. In order to avoid “lost-glove syndrome” — and having to replace your child’s sunglasses every few weeks — sunglass cords (commonly called “retainers”) are a good idea. They are usually attached to the temples, so that if your little one removes the sunglasses (or they get knocked off during play), the frames will hang from the neck and not get misplaced.
It might also be a good idea to instill in your child that they should not trade their sunglasses with school mates. Not all sunglasses are made equal, and just because you got the best protection for your child, this does not mean all parents can. Trading glasses with a friend could mean that your child has less protection for their eyes.
- Location, location, location. Be aware that your child’s exposure to UV rays increases at high altitudes, in tropical locations, and in highly reflective environments (such as in a snowfield, on the water, or on the beach). In these locales, it is especially vital that your kids’ eyes are protected.
Many adults have difficulty remembering to wear sunglasses in the winter time. It can be even harder for children to remember. Snow provides just as much if not more reflection than water does. While we love to see the bright sunny days in winter, these can be the most dangerous days for our children’s eyes.
- Peer pressure problems. You can’t watch your children 24/7 to make sure they are wearing their sunglasses. Even if you explain why they need to be sure to wear them, they may still remove them when your out of sight. Try to find protective sunglasses that your child will enjoy wearing so that they are more likely to keep them on even if their friends aren’t wearing them.
- Some habits are good. Help your child build some good habits. Make sure that sunglasses are kept close to the door so that they remember them on their way out. Make a special place for the glasses so that your child knows where to find them all the time. It will probably take some trial and error with older children before the act of putting on sunglasses becomes habit, but it’s worth the effort.
The best places to find kids’ sunglasses are sunglass specialty stores, optical chain stores, or at your own optician. There are even pairs for infants as young as 6 months. Remember, the earlier you introduce your wee ones to sunglasses, the quicker they become accustomed to them, and then you’re on your way to setting up “sun-smarts” that will last a lifetime.
ABCs, 123s, avoid UVs!