Is teen plastic surgery growing as fast as the media would have you think? Probably not. While it is true that patients are getting younger in general, those under the age of 18 account for just 1% – 4% of the numbers of people seeking cosmetic procedures, according to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
In our practice in New York, teen plastic surgery has grown steadily but slowly. We do treat some young patients, and we turn away others with suggestions ranging from “wait a while to decide” to “consider counseling first.”
But in these times so dominated by media and social media, there’s no doubt that cosmetic procedures are on the minds of young people more than ever. So we are glad the ASPS issued guidelines for teen plastic surgery earlier this year. If you’re a parent with an interested son or daughter, we suggest you read the press release about teen plastic surgery. The guidelines the ASPS has outlined make sense.
Deciding how to handle a your child’s desire for cosmetic surgery is tricky. If he or she is serious, don’t dismiss the notion without discussion, as there is obviously some discontent that should be explored. But you probably won’t want to automatically agree, either. Here are some considerations:
Has Your Child Stopped Growing?
Body parts finish growing at different ages. Because the ears reach their ultimate size early, otoplasty, or ear surgery, can be performed on children as young as five years old, says the ASPS (we have done surgery on a child a year younger than that). We posted an article covering otoplasty for kids here.
Rhinoplasty is one of the leading procedures for teens. It can usually be performed on young men who are between 16 and 18, and girls a little younger than that.
Is Self Esteem an Issue?
If your child is being ridiculed because of their looks, cosmetic surgery may be a helpful measure. Kids can be targets due to large noses or ears, but it seems that girls with huge breasts and guys with man boobs (gynecomastia) suffer even more. Girls attract unwanted attention from the opposite sex at an age when they may not be able to handle it well. “Friends” often tease boys with moobs mercilessly.
It would be wonderful if teen self-images were mature and resilient, strong enough to fend off teasing with aplomb. Unfortunately this is not usually the case with kids in their formative years. Extra large breasts can cause young men and women to withdraw from friends and social activities and hinder development of a healthy sense of self.
Gynecomastia surgery for adolescents can be appropriate even in the early teens if man boobs have persisted for two years. Girls may need to wait until age 15 or 16 for breast reduction surgery to ensure growth has stopped.
Does Your Teen Have a Well Balanced Life?
Give some thought to your child’s overall well being. Does he or she have friends and a relatively healthy social life? Do they have interests such as sports, music, art or others? Are their grades decent?
If not—if your son or daughter is withdrawn, spending most time alone or with screens instead of people—it could be that they need assistance tackling issues that could compounded or caused by worry about their looks. No matter whether cosmetic surgery is in order, in such cases counseling is probably a good step.
Is Your Child Mature Enough?
Young people don’t always have the maturity required for elective procedures. It’s easy to look forward to the end result, but they also need to understand that getting from here to there requires patience, taking time away from their normal life and perhaps some discomfort. In the consultation room, we want teens to demonstrate thorough understanding that plastic surgery is real surgery.
Of course there is more to consider as you think about the option of plastic surgery for your teen. New York parents we meet often feel conflicted, and we typically spend lots of time discussing their child’s overall mindset and potential readiness for surgery. Two big topics are recovery and expectations.
Your child must be able to handle recovery from cosmetic surgery. Very young children undergoing cosmetic ear surgery should not be overly frightened of the procedure and ready to wear a bandage for a few days. Recovery from nose surgery take a bit longer, but teens who are good candidates for the procedure can usually take the post-op period in stride.
Breast reduction involves moderate swelling and bruising, mild to moderate discomfort, and the need to wear special garments for a while after surgery. When we work with teens choosing plastic surgery in New York, they often decide to have their procedure in summer to allow plenty of time to heal.
Realistic expectations are key to successful teen plastic surgery. Patients need to know that teasing and bullying won’t necessarily vanish—in fact, peers may notice the difference after surgery and point that out. Kids need to be prepared for this. And it should go without saying that motivations that involve looking like someone else, increasing sex appeal and so on are not appropriate.
Kids also need to understand that there will be an adjustment period in all likelihood. For example, teens undergoing breast reduction may need time to get used to their new shape and feel comfortable in more form fitting attire. Changes in outlook don’t happen overnight.
Keep in mind that the age guidelines may not apply to children with deformities. As the ASPS notes, for instance, a boy or girl with a cleft lip may have rhinoplasty along with surgery to repair the lip at an earlier age than mid to late teens.
Cosmetic surgery isn’t a cure-all—not for people at any age. It can certainly help boost self-esteem and improve quality of life, when the patient is committed to doing their part too. Most of all, teens who view the option as a way to remove an obstacle and get on with things are likely to be satisfied after surgery.
Parental support is essential, of course. We would be happy to meet with you and your teen. Give us a call at 212-570-6080 to set up an appointment.