When I was small, the very idea of spectacles being “cool” would have made people hoot with laughter. Nobody wanted to wear glasses then. This is why contact lenses were invented. People in those days would rather deal with a small plastic disc disappearing round the back of their eyeball than actually be seen wearing a pair of glasses. Heaven forbid! But now, of course, glasses are hip. The selling of fashionable frames in all colors and styles is huge business. But there’s still one demographic that resists this trend: children.
I’m a spectacles wearer myself, and I’ve been nearsighted since I was little. But as an 8-year-old, I was so horrified at the thought of having to wear glasses that I managed to persuade my parents my eyesight was fine. I’m still amazed I was able to pull this off. I’d had an eye test at school that suggested my vision was poor, but despite this, I avoided a trip to the optician until well into my teens.
At that time, I wouldn’t have been alone in my hostility toward wearing glasses, but many children still show the same prejudice today. Despite our new enthusiasm for eyewear, most kids would prefer to be spectacles-free. And that’s tough for parents who discover that their child is nearsighted. How do you convince your visually challenged little one that it’s actually good to wear glasses?
Role models would be very useful in this endeavor, but who are the role models for bespectacled boys and girls? Harry Potter springs to mind, obviously. Leo from “Little Einsteins”? Eliza Thornberry? If it sounds like I’m struggling here, it’s because I am. Despite one in five of our under-eighteens wearing glasses, they are woefully underrepresented in children’s TV and movies. Adults are constantly shown how great it is to wear spectacles by the media, but unfortunately kids rarely are.
Luckily, there are three easy things you can do to encourage children to get excited about getting glasses for the first time…
Let them pick the frames. In my new picture book Douglas, You Need Glasses!, Douglas gets to try on a whole load of different styles of spectacles before he finds a pair that he decides are just right. This is an important part of getting children comfortable with the idea of wearing glasses: Let them choose the frames themselves. It doesn’t matter if they’re not to your taste — if your child has picked the frames all on their own, they’re more likely to be relaxed about wearing them. And that’s so important.
Remind them of what they’re missing. The big sell to a boy or girl who’s reluctant to take the optical plunge should be that they will literally see the world! To be at the optician and suddenly have blurred letters come into focus is a pleasant surprise. But to finally get your glasses and step outside and see buildings, trees, birds, and people properly for the first time — well, that’s a beautiful experience you never forget.
When I finally got glasses as a teenager, I thought of all the things I’d missed out on by delaying this moment for so long. I’d spent years squinting and pretending I could see squirrels and rabbits from a distance when people pointed them out to me. Just like Douglas in the first half of my book, I had muddled along in a haze and in denial of how poor my eyesight was.
Have fun with style. The variety of specs now available for children will hopefully make my experience a rarity. If a child can learn to see glasses in the same way they see shoes or other items of clothing, they’re more likely to view them as an asset rather than a burden. We need to wear clothes, but we get to have fun with styles and colors, different materials and fabrics. Glasses can be the same — they’re functional but they can also be things that add to our “look” and character.
My son Rex once said to me, “When you don’t have your glasses on, you look like a silly man.” I think he’s right. Glasses make me look less silly. Only less, though. I mean, glasses can’t do everything.
Looking for some great picture books with a glasses-positive theme? Try these on for size:
To celebrate the book’s publication, parents are encouraged to share pictures of their children wearing glasses using the hashtag #douglasyouneedglasses and tag @RandomHouseKids on Twitter.