Bullying has been a rising problem in the past decade and it just isn’t going away.
According to the website Bullying Statistics, one in seven students in grades kindergarten through year 12 was either bullied or a bully themselves. This website also calculated that around 10,000 children miss school daily as they are afraid they will be bullied.
One of the most regular things children are teased or bullied about is their physical appearance. According to a plastic surgeon and founding member of the Little Baby Face Foundation, which offers free plastic surgery to children worldwide, 39% of children who are bullied are victims due to their looks (source).
Kids can change their hair, their clothes or their makeup to blend in, but they can’t change their face. The surgeon further states that when you help a kid eliminate the one feature that is often the focus of the bullying, you can help them live a bully-free existence and become more confident and sure of themselves.
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When a child or teenager faces severe bullying, this can cause unspeakable misery. The child or teenager in particular may feel that the world is ending, and things will never improve. It can cause such damage that children and teenagers are willing to do anything to make it stop, and if you take into consideration the rates at which severely bullied children attempt suicide, getting a cosmetic procedure to fix the perceived issue seems, in some cases, to be a reasonable act.
Plastic surgery amongst children is not that common, though it is on the rise. The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) claims that just over one percent of the total of plastic surgeries performed in 2010 were done on children under the age of eighteen.
ASAPS also states that in the last decade, the number of children having plastic surgery has gone up by about 30 percent. They believe that this number has risen, at least in part, due to society’s more accepting views on plastic surgery, and the rise of bullying, and fears of parents of their children being bullied due to their physical appearance.
According to Dr. Joseph Niamtu, a plastic surgeon in the United States, the most requested cosmetic procedures requested by children and their parents are otoplasty (ear repositioning), and birthmark, scar and mole removal. To a lesser extent, other popular plastic surgeries include rhinoplasty (to correct nasal deformities) and breast reductions in older teen girls.
If you are considering otoplasty for your child, Dr. Niamtu recommends performing it before they start elementary school, since that is when the teasing most commonly begins. He reasons that children don’t have a fully formed social filter, and will therefore comment on everything that catches their attention. Therefore, when children have a more prominent physical feature that can draw criticism, it affects body image and self esteem, which affects children for the rest of their life.
If you are considering plastic surgery for your child, due diligence is an absolute must. It’s important that you get a number of consultations, ensure that the plastic surgeon is double board certified, has performed the procedure previously and is affiliated with a hospital.
Dr. Kien Ha, an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon in Australia, regularly sees patients under eighteen with regards to changing the appearance of their nose, as part of breathing or other functional problems or for purely cosmetic reasons. From his personal perspective, it’s important to bear in mind that the facial skeleton continues to change and mature throughout adolescence.
The age in which facial growth ceases can vary between 16 until the early 20s. Ideally, cosmetic rhinoplasty should be delayed until the surgeon is confident that facial growth has ceased. Operating before this time may affect nasal skeletal maturation, or the nose may continue to change following surgery; leading to an undesirable result. (source)
There are, however, a few exceptions when considering rhinoplasty in a child or young teenager. If a significant nasal bony or cartilage deformity is identified early, correcting this may then allow for normal nasal growth. If surgery is postponed until the child is older, it may result in a greater cosmetic deformity, make surgery much more difficult and you may never be able to achieve an acceptable result.
While plastic surgery may put a stop to some bullying, some family therapists and parenting experts believe that performing a cosmetic procedure on children could send the wrong message to children, and could possibly launch them on an unhealthy path down the future where they focus on pleasing others.
If you change for others, you are living for other people instead of learning to love yourself. The experts acknowledge that there are some extraordinary circumstances in which plastic surgery is necessary, it would seem a better option to celebrate children’s physical quirks and help them grow and expand coping mechanisms.
Resorting to cosmetic procedures to change your physical appearance when you’re still young might send a troubling message to children, where they believe that they are not only responsible for their own bullying, and that they are the ones that need to change in order for the bullying to stop, instead of placing responsibility on the perpetrators. By placing the burden to change on the victim, instead of the bully or bullies themselves, it’s possible that we’re setting up the children who cannot change themselves up for a lifetime of internalized hatred and self-loathing.
As adults, we should not be trying to erase these children’s differences, but to protect at-risk children from being bullied and hurt by their peers. It’s important that we teach all kids to respect diversity in all its forms, and teaching them it’s never okay to tease and attack kids that are different from them.
A lot of children that have gone under the knife report that they are happier than they’ve ever been post-surgery, and have experienced a complete change in attitude. While we should definitely be happy and cheer when a child finds their own confidence and self-acceptance, we must remember that some happy endings come with heavy prices, and it won’t be the bullies paying for them.
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