Rites of passage are important in any culture. Many 16- and 17-year-olds in the Naples and Fort Myers area are lucky enough to receive a car or SUV to mark their passage into adulthood, but as any parent knows, such a gift is often a huge lesson in responsibility and maturity for a teenager. Increasingly — and often disturbingly — instead of cars, parents are purchasing cosmetic surgery for their teens, a gift that also carries a great deal of responsibility.
Teen plastic surgery can be seen as a troubling development in a culture that puts too much pressure on teenagers to be fashion-model beautiful, but it also offers teens the possibility to address issues that weigh heavily on their self-esteem and overall wellbeing.
The Good, the Bad, and the Pretty
In some cases, Americans have a right to be outraged by teen cosmetic surgery. There’s something troubling about parents purchasing breast augmentation for their teen daughter, or encouraging whole-body recontouring procedures for teens not fully grown. I follow the American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ guidelines, which basically advise that no one under 18 receive plastic surgery unless there is a compelling reason or reconstructive element involved. Wanting to look like a celebrity or an Abercrombie & Fitch model is not a compelling reason for teens to go under the knife.
But compelling reasons do exist for teen cosmetic surgery in Naples and Fort Myers. For instance, children and adolescents from age 6 to 16 have routinely undergone otoplasty, or surgery to correct ears that “stick out” far from the head. Even in this day and age, there are still bullies on the playground and in the lunchroom who will tease others about oversize ears. There’s no need for a child to be subjected to such ridicule, when a simple, relatively painless otoplasty procedure is available to rein in large ears.
Another compelling case is the teen girl who has suffered through juvenile hypertrophy of the breast, and has breasts that are so large that she stops her school activities and sports and becomes very introverted. Breast reduction surgery can help these young women feel normal again, preventing their breasts from having an impact on their personality development.
Young boys who suffer from gynecomastia, or enlarged male breasts, see similar results after male breast reduction surgery. I am careful to make sure that the underlying causes of the gynecomastia are treated before surgery so that the problem will not return.
Reconstructive plastic surgery also can make a huge difference in a teen’s life. For instance, facial or breast deformities can significantly change a teen’s outlook and negatively affect their personality and their willingness to connect with their peers. These teens often benefit from early surgical correction, rather than waiting until their 20s when emotional damage has already been done.
Maturity and Understanding Risk
There’s no denying that teens are pressured to conform to a beauty ideal. But often, in these difficult developmental years, teens tend to overlook their individual beauty and fail to appreciate that their bodies are a unique part of themselves. As teens mature, they gain perspective into how they want to present themselves to the world, and only then are they equipped to make life-changing decisions about their physical appearance.
In almost all cases, cosmetic surgery is more appropriate for men and women in their 20s and older, both because these patients are much more mature and because their bodies have finished growing. Maturity is an important factor in any plastic surgery procedure; immature patients often seek impossible perfection, but responsible adults understand that plastic surgery is just one tool in the beauty basket, not a cure for personal problems or a way to become someone else.
I believe that no one, especially teenagers, should take cosmetic surgery lightly. The changes are permanent and complications can occur. To counter the message teens often hear, that plastic surgery is all about glitz and glam, more education is needed. Understanding cosmetic surgery risks can help all teens appreciate the difficult decisions that surgery can require.
Parents: Do Your Homework
I often encounter frustrated parents who don’t know what to say to their son or daughter who’s considering cosmetic surgery. I advise these mothers and fathers to try to talk with their teen about the perceived need underlying their child’s desire for a cosmetic procedure. Often, if you can get to the bottom of your child’s concerns, you can offer nonsurgical solutions that in most cases are more fruitful than pushing ahead with a cosmetic procedure.
For instance, if your child wants surgery so they will fit in better with their peers, or to satisfy a boyfriend or girlfriend, there are good ways to address the underlying feelings of inadequacy and awkwardness. Also, if legitimate self-esteem issues exist, then discussing those with your teen may help you get comfortable with surgical correction.