By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 20, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Most kids look pretty dang cute with glasses, but at a certain age, their activities or their egos make most kids want to ditch the specs for contacts. But what age is appropriate for kids to get contact lenses?

Dr. Dale Buettner is an optometrist at Wisconsin Vision, 8225 S. 27th St. in Franklin. He says the right age for contacts varies from kid to kid, but that he usually doesn't recommend contacts for kids younger than age 12.

Even for 12-year-olds, he says contacts are only the right choice if they are mature enough to care for them and if there is reason for them to give up glasses.

"Some kids are more active than others. Kids who are very active in sports usually want them younger than other kids," says Buettner, a spokesperson for Bausch + Lomb.

Buettner says although parents sometimes think the reverse, it is actually safer for a kid to wear contacts rather than glasses while playing a sport. Glasses do not protect the eyes and, in the case of an accident, can cause more harm than protection.

Kids with glasses who play sports that require helmets, such as football or baseball, are often the first to come in for contacts. He also fits a lot of kids for contacts who are dedicated to dance.

Buettner says people have slightly better peripheral vision with contacts and for some sports, this makes a difference.

"But contacts are a big responsibility," he says.

Most importantly, Buettner wants to be certain the child is motivated to get contacts, and not just the parents. Sometimes, parents get frustrated after replacing a pair of glasses a couple of times in a short period of time and make the decision to get contacts for their kids to save money. Or the parent wears contact lenses and thinks it will be easier if their child wears them, too.

"I'm a parent as well, and I get all of this, but if I see a kid squirming at the mention of contacts, I know it's not the right time," he says.

After the eye exam, if it seems that contacts are a good option for the child, the parents bring him or her back to the office to talk about different types of contacts. All of Buettner's young contact lense wearers get an orientation to contact wearing where they learn how to care for them.

"One of our trained opticians goes through how to put them in and take them out and care for them. It can take a half hour to an hour. They will also learn how to disinfect," says Buettner. "Most importantly, we want to make sure they are proficient doing it themselves without any help from grown ups."

If the appointment is a success, the child wears his or her contacts for a week and then returns to the office to discuss any issues. The doctor checks their eyes to make sure they are responding positively to the lenses, and then they can wear them regularly without follow-up appointments.

He recommends soft lenses and particularly daily disposable lenses. That way, kids do not have to use any solution. They just wear them and then toss them in the garbage.

He says it's tough for kids to keep track how long they have been wearing disposable contacts and, on average, a two-week contact lense is worn for 26 days which is too long for optimal eye health.

"If a kid is tired at the end of the day and doesn't want to take his or her contacts out in the bathroom, I tell them just to stick them on their nightstand. It doesn't matter if they dry out because they get a fresh pair every day," he says.

Buettner says the biggest concern kids have about wearing contacts – like many adults – is having to touch their eyes.

Ideally, Buettner says, kids should wear both contacts and glasses, so parents need to have a pair of glasses that are the right prescription and in a style that the child is comfortable wearing.

"Problems can come in if kids wearing contacts don't have a backup plan," he says. "And kids might not want to wear their glasses if they are an outdated style or prescription."

Mary Mattson has a 14-year-old son, Malcolm, who started wearing contacts at age 13. He wears daily disposable lenses and so far, the whole family is pleased with them.

"Malcolm was starting to have some low self esteem issues around wearing glasses. I really think contacts gave him confidence," says Mattson.

Buettner sees both adults and children at his practice.

"It's really a lot of fun working with kids. Kids are really refreshing," he says.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.