Some parenting is easy. Your-two-year old wants gummy bears for breakfast, “No.” Your four-year-old wants to ride in the car without a seat belt, “No.”
Your 16-year-old wants to get plastic surgery to fix her nose. For some parents, that’s a bit harder.
She did inherit the Wilson family nose. It is bigger than most with a rounded, upturned end. When a new baby is born in the family, usually the first comment is, “Look, he got the Wilson family nose, poor thing!” or “Wow, she has a beautiful nose, it didn’t come from our family.”
Adolescence is a time of discovering oneself in all areas: physical, mental and emotional. It is a time characterized by a change in focus from parental approval to peer approval. Anything a teen sees as a barrier to fitting in can become a focus of anxiety or negative emotions:
“I’m too fat! I’d be happier if I were thinner, taller, had shorter arms, longer legs, curly hair, straighter hair, darker skin, lighter skin.”
Almost everyone wishes there was something they could change about their bodies. For many people, especially young teens, their whole self-esteem may temporarily be tied to appearance or body image.
Body image is a person’s opinions, thoughts, and feelings about his or her own body and physical appearance. Having a positive body image means appreciating your body for its strengths and accepting its imperfections. Body image is part of someone’s total self-image and thus impacts self-esteem. A person who has high self-esteem will make friends easily, do better in school, will be more in control of his or her behavior, and will enjoy life more. As parents, we want that for our children.
Emotional health has a really big effect on how people think they look. If you’re depressed, extremely self-critical, or have a distorted view of what you really look like (body dysmorphic disorder) you may think changing your looks will solve all of your problems.
Teens with these emotional difficulties will continue to have those emotions after plastic surgery; they may be very dissatisfied with the surgical outcome and go on to develop a preoccupation with another body part. Working out the emotional problem with a mental health expert is the true solution here. In fact, most doctors won’t consider plastic surgery for teens who are depressed or have other mental health problems.
If you’re considering plastic surgery for your teen, first try to answer a couple of important questions:
Is this an aspect of his appearance that realistically needs to change or one that needs to be accepted as a normal part of developing healthy self esteem?
Are these concerns impairing normal development of healthy self-esteem in an otherwise well-adjusted teen? In other words, does your teen need to change how he looks to feel good, or does he actually just need to change the way he sees his body and how he thinks about himself?
Sometimes these decisions may feel “gummy bear” easy: a child with a cleft lip, a malformed ear or a birth mark covering the entire side of his face. Sometimes, they are more difficult: a perfectly formed, but large nose, mild breast asymmetry, ears that stick out.
The following are a list of plastic surgeries that are most common among teens:
- Rhinoplasty (“nose job”)
- Otoplasty (pinning back ears that stick out)
- Breast reduction
- Correction of breast asymmetry
- Correction of gynecomastia (abnormally large male breasts)
- Chemical Peels or microdermabrasion for acne and acne scaring
- Laser hair removal (especially in children on medications that cause excessive hair growth)
The bottom line is that while plastic surgery to correct serious physical flaws should be an option for teens, purely cosmetic procedures are not going to be the solution to improving self-esteem. Unless the physical flaw is health-related or seriously deforming, I recommend teens wait until their bodies have finished growing and they have developed a healthy self-esteem through life experiences in order to make an informed decision about a life-long change such as plastic surgery.
What do you think? Is it ever appropriate for a teenager to have plastic surgery?