In my many years working in Naples as a plastic surgeon, I have seen numerous teens interested in getting elective surgery. Although it’s perfectly normal for teens to feel awkward as their bodies develop and they compare themselves to others, plastic surgery is not often the appropriate answer for young people whose emotions are still developing, too.
Many of the issues that adolescents grapple with resolve themselves over time as teens grow to appreciate their own unique characteristics. Getting plastic surgery before a teenager is emotionally mature may instill a lifetime of self-doubt and body image concerns. This is why I follow basic industry guidelines by the America Society of Plastic Surgeons that advise no one under age 18 get plastic surgery unless there is a compelling reason.
However, when such a reason does exist, then it’s ethical for a plastic surgeon to proceed. How can a parent or guardian make the distinction between a teen who simply wants surgery and one who has a valid reason for surgery?
- Growing pains: Adolescence is a rocky time. As their bodies develop and change, teenagers often feel awkward and compare themselves to their peers. Teens are especially influenced by media images and may set unrealistic expectations of how they should look. Although these times can be emotionally trying, they aren’t necessarily reason enough for plastic surgery. Instead, parents can offer guidance and support to help teens keep things in perspective.
- Emotional pains: When a teen has a physical characteristic that causes psychological distress, or the teen is being bullied or ostracized, then there is likely a compelling reason for plastic surgery. Boys with gynecomastia (overly large breasts) may be candidates. Otoplasty, or ear surgery, is also very common for children and teens because it is a relatively simple procedure that can correct a range of deformities.
I suggest parents talk to their teens frankly and openly about their desires for cosmetic surgery. Sometimes discussing these things can help parents get to the bottom of their teens’ self-esteem issues. It may also be wise to consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon with years of experience so the teen can hear the doctor’s recommendation in person.