SmackDown: Should You Let Your Teen Get Plastic Surgery?
by Jo Parente
Let My Kid Get Plastic Surgery? Not on My Watch
Recent news: A 15-year-old girl hates her appearance. She's being taunted about her nose, so she tries to break it by banging her face against a door. Her mother allows her to have plastic surgery and believes her daughter's self-esteem is much improved. Problem solved.
Uh, I doubt it. The ugliness here was never this child's (perfectly average) nose. The ugliness is the self-hatred that compelled her to try to crush her own face.
How did this young woman get to this point? What role did the school play in this? Who might she have become as an adult, had her parents insisted upon and helped her map a no-surgery route to healing her profoundly damaged self-worth?
We won't know. She won't know.
What happens when the bullies decide to start in on her ears? Or her breasts? Or her rear? Maybe the bullies simply stick with "fat" or "ugly." Then what?
It scares the hell out of me to see cosmetic surgery becoming a socially acceptable "quick fix" for poor self-esteem in the teen years. The numbers of teens flocking to plastic surgeons are mounting. "Nearly 90,000 teenagers had cosmetic surgery in 2007, and doctors say the numbers are growing," Good Morning America reports.
But at what cost (besides the already high price tag of elective surgery not covered by a family's health insurance)?
Let's put aside the scientific fact that the human body is not finished growing and shifting and setting until approximately 18 years of age. Let's even set aside the very real, very serious health risks of going under the knife (infection, scarring, blood clots, complications with anesthesia, death).
The average 15-year-old still has to be reminded to apply sunscreen and do her homework. The average 15-year-old is not a long-term thinker.
Ask a 15-year-old who smokes why she does it, and she might tell you it's easier than saying no. It feels good. Same goes for underage drinking, drugs, or sex. We were teens once. We know the drill. Teens like to feel good right here and right now, even when the long-term consequences are appalling. The quick fix is king.
It's not my job as a mother to teach quick fixes. It's not my job to keep my child happy at all costs. Life, quite frequently, sucks. The trick is to learn the tools to minimize the suck and maximize the beauty -- not the kind you find in a magazine.
It's my job to teach my child tools for sustainable, long-term living. I refuse to OK an otherwise healthy child's wish to drastically and permanently alter her appearance with a surgical procedure. This is in no way a sustainable, long-term method for dealing with haters. Bullies will come and go. It's my job to teach her to love and live with the one beautiful, unique constant: her.
As an adult, she can decide if surgery is the best option for her. I'll support her choice then, either way. But the bullies don't get to win this round, not while she's on my watch. Her self-hatred doesn't get to win this round, either. I support my child by not supporting her wish for a quick fix.
I'm talking elective surgery on children who are still barely grown into their bodies. I have no issue with cosmetic surgery for kids who've been in horrible disfiguring accidents, or reconstructive surgery for cleft palates and various birth defects. And I can certainly understand the desire and the wish to protect one's child from any unwanted attention, from any cruelty or bullying. My older daughter has a birth defect and subsequent scarring of her arm that's caused stares and unpleasant comments from children (and ignorant adults) since she was a month old. If she wanted reconstructive surgery, insurance would pay for it.
So far, she doesn't want corrective surgery. At 10, she says, "My arm is part of what makes me who I am. If somebody makes rude comments, it's kind of annoying. But it makes it a lot easier to see who my real friends are."
She may have a different take on it in five years. But her sense of self has already been tested, and she's passed her own test, not someone else's. Her "defect" has been a remarkable asset, an invaluable lesson in accepting herself, as-is.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.