To a parent, every child is beautiful. But when kids hit their teens, they often become obsessed with physical imperfections – and in our media-drenched society, that can mean anything from a slightly crooked nose to a belly that isn’t concave.
It’s no surprise that more and more teens are turning to plastic surgery to “fix” the flaws that bother them. Shows like “Extreme Makeover” and magazine features about celebrities have made cosmetic surgery seem like a rite of passage. As the recent death of rapper Kanye West’s mother following a cosmetic procedure shows, though, plastic surgery is never risk-free. “There is always the chance of problems, even death, when undergoing surgery,” says Joel Schlessinger, MD, FAAD, FAACS, President of the American Society of Cosmetic Dermatology and Aesthetic Surgery. “Many surgeries are unnecessary in this field and can often lead to further problems."
If your kid thinks that a little plastic surgery will magically solve all their problems, it's definitely time for some parental intervention. For starters, dig in to what is causing your child to consider surgery in the first place. Is it medically motivated? For example, does your daughter want breast reduction surgery because of back pain? Or is it socially motivated-- like teasing about weight or some physical feature.
Be honest about your child’s motivations. “The job for parents is to find out who actually wants the procedure and for what reasons,” says William Brennan, MD, FACS. If your child’s interested in plastic surgery because his friends have had it, remind him that everyone’s circumstances are unique.
While some teens may be emotionally mature enough to understand the risks and trade-offs of surgery, many are not. Teens assuming that a smaller nose will bring instant popularity are likely to be disappointed. Recovery can be slow and painful, and peers may judge them for undergoing an expensive, elective procedure. Furthermore, teenagers are still growing and developing physically, so surgeries like liposuction and breast augmentation completely inappropriate.
Of course, many teens simply want to correct obvious birthmarks, prominent ears, or other “flaws” that may have led to years of teasing and self-consciousness. If your teen’s serious about pursuing cosmetic surgery, and nothing you say can dissuade them, here’s what you need to know.
- The web means hundreds of plastic surgeons are only a click away, but there’s no substitute for a personal referral. Make sure the surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (https://www.abplsurg.org/ModDefault.aspx), since some “surgeons” have only completed brief training courses.
- Although computer imaging can show your child projected “before” and “after” images, ask to see real photos of actual patients to see examples of the surgeon’s work. - If prospective surgeons tell you your child isn’t a good candidate, listen! Don’t seek out someone who may be willing to operate under less than ideal circumstances.
- To be sure your child’s ready, “parents should seek a neutral third-party professional opinion from a reputable plastic surgeon and a highly qualified psychologist,” says Henri Gaboriau, MD, a member of the American Academy of Facial, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.
- Never compromise on safety to save money. Some parents can easily afford plastic surgery, while others are struggling to meet much more basic needs, like getting enough food on the table. Make sure you talk to your teen about the financial sacrifice and gage whether this is a passing phase. If your teen had to chip in for the surgery, would he or she still want it?
If your teen balks at any of these steps or if your instincts tell you plastic surgery would be a mistake, do not proceed. Cosmetic surgery isn’t going anywhere, but your child just may grow into that nose.