You're going to be hard-pressed to find a more difficult demographic to deal with, inside of the dispensary or out. The hormone-influenced mood swings; the strange subcultures; the unbreakable fixation on digital technology (all right, so, a lot of adults I've met have been guilty of the last one, too, but the teenagers have been much more blatant about it). They're bundles of emotion and frustration, trying to define themselves in time for entrance into the adult world while still struggling to survive in the teenage world they currently inhabit. Throw glasses into the mix, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Add parents, and you're positively dealing with dynamite.
Dispensing to teenagers is unique because, rather than trying to simply serve the needs of the patient, you're simultaneously trying to serve the needs of the parent, too; and while parents wouldn't like to hear me say this, those needs are often mutually exclusive.
It's understandable, of course, if the teen in question wants a pair of designer frames that are too expensive for the parent to afford, or if he/she wants a pair of ill-fitting frames simply because they're the ones in the dispensary that most resemble the type other popular teens at school are wearing. For all of the reasonable head-butting that occurs between parents and teens, however, there's just as much unreasonable head-butting. The parent who doesn't want his/her child to wear glasses at all, and influences the teen's style choices based on their own neuroses (such as a father encouraging his active, roughhousing, not-too-careful-with-anything son to buy totally rimless glasses because "they don't look like you got glasses)." The parent fixated on fashion who drives his or her child to select frames based on those worn by a favored celebrity, regardless of the efficacy of the style for the teen's RX (I once had a mother insist her -4.25, high-cyl daughter choose a pair of oversized, boxy, Wayfarer knockoff frames because she had a picture of Jennifer Aniston wearing them on her cell phone). The parent who...well… is just plain off of his or her rocker.
Some time ago, on a particularly busy afternoon, a mother and son came to the dispensary to select glasses. In his late teens, he'd just been diagnosed with hyperopia after several years of placement in the front of classrooms. Coupled with close TV watching, this had allowed him to get through middle school and several years of high school without realizing there was an issue. Because I was already juggling several other patients, I directed the mother to the men's section of the dispensary and asked her to begin browsing while I finished up with the people with whom I was already working. Finishing up with my patients, I began to pick up on snippets of the mother's resultant conversation with the son. Most of it was banal, such as "try these on," or "I don't like those." Then, I began to hear the strange stuff. There was, "They're ruining your face!" Then, "They need to highlight your eyes. They're not doing anything for your eyes!"
I'd finished dealing with my patients, moved on to mother and son. "All right, we need some help," the mother said. They'd narrowed it down to a few frames. Taking a look at the initial selection, it was apparent that mom had selected many of them herself. They were, by and large, oversized, 70s style wire rims, Walter White-meets-Napoleon Dynamite. There were a few more contemporarily styled, semi-rimless wire rims reminiscent of late-90s GQ chic, but even these were too large for the boy's relatively narrow face. Amongst these were frames more obviously chosen by the boy—not only were they more modern looking, and clearly the choices of someone who didn't want to stand out the wrong way in the already vicious conformity pit that is high school, but they just plain fit better, too.
I started the way I begin every frame selection process, by asking the boy what he liked and disliked about each of the frames. My intuition was correct, as it turned out he favored the darker frames and zyls (which he had in fact chosen himself) vs. the giant wire rims (which, in fact, mom had chosen). From both functional as well as fashion standpoints, the boy's choices were better than mom's. It eventually came out that a particular pair of black, wire-rimmed glasses were the boy's personal favorite. They were no differently priced from any of the mom' choices, they fit and looked good on the boy… I figured I was ready to wrap things up and move on to the next patient.
Oh, was I wrong.
"I don't like black glasses," the mother said. "Do they come in brown?"
"Well," I said, "I can check with the manufacturer, but, does he like black glasses?"
"It doesn't matter what he likes," mom said. It wasn't just the statement that was jarring, it was the way she said it: Defensive, as though I'd just insulted her, but at the same time puzzled, as though I'd just told her the sky was green.
"Pardon?" I said (because I'm stuffy like that).
The mother laughed. Yes, she actually laughed. Pop culture moment, but, have you ever watched The Simpsons? You know how Bart's teacher, Mrs. Krabapple, will always make some bitter or sarcastic statement and then follow it up with this derisive, high pitched laugh? I kid you not: That's what this woman did. "It doesn't matter what he likes, because I'm the one paying for them."
I tried to diffuse the situation. I explained that I respected she was the one making the financial investment, and that as a large financial investment, I wanted her to be comfortable with what she was spending her money on. I respectfully explained that in my experience, children and teenagers made to wear glasses they aren't comfortable with will oftentimes intentionally lose or misplace them, and, in situations where the child has been coping without glasses for so long, will simply choose to not wear them at school and continue to compensate as they have been.
"He doesn't get to make decisions. I make decisions. As soon as he moves out of my house, gets a job, and starts earning money, he can do what he wants. Until then, he'll do what I want, wear what I want, and look how I want." Then she moved past me to the son, who'd been standing by silently ever since I engaged his mother. He'd put on the black wire rims and was studying himself in a mirror. "Your eyes!" She said, a little too loudly. "They don't do anything for your eyes!" She put her hand on his face and began turning it back and forth. "They need to bring out your eyes!"
As you can imagine, the situation pretty much disintegrated from there. The mother declared her intention to return on another day to deal with someone else, someone who… (and at this point she began to mutter incoherently before leaving).
So, how could I have handled the situation better? Could I have? Yes, probably. Would it have gone any better? I suppose the answer to that is another question: Who was it my primary job to serve: The teen, or the parent? I could have easily backed down, agreed with mom, and made a quick sale by letting her choose frames for this boy that were unseemly, ill-fitting, and almost certainly would have caused him at least minor social grief at school. I would have been responsible for his initial experience with eyewear being a negative one, an event that would have had some influence on his future eyewear decisions and purchases, no matter how big or small; and that was not a role I wanted to assume.
Here's where we go back to the question of that unique dynamic in teen eyewear purchases. Even though parents may have the pocket book, ultimately, the teens are our patients, and it is our duty to act in the patient's best interest. It's our job to educate parent and teen to make the best decision; better to let no decision be made than the wrong one.
Preston Fassel was born in Houston, Texas and grew up between St. Charles, Missouri and Broken Arrow, OK.
In 2009, Preston graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Liberal Arts. In 2011, he graduated Cum Laude from Sam Houston State University with a Bachelor’s of Science.
Preston currently works as an Optician in the Houston area. His interest in the history of eyewear goes back to his time in high school, when he developed an interest in all things vintage.
In addition to his writing for The 20/20 Opticians Handbook and 20/20 Magazine, Preston has also been featured in Rue Morgue magazine, where he is a recurrent reviewer of horror and science-fiction DVDs. His fiction writing has been featured three times in Swirl magazine, the literary arts journal of Lone Star College and Montgomery County. An essay on the life and death of British horror actress Vanessa Howard is scheduled to appear in the Spring issue of the quarterly horror journal, Screem.
Preston lives in Conroe, Texas with his wife, Kayleigh, and his ego, Ted.