For Some Kids Appearance-Related Plastic Surgery Is Vital to Well-Being
March 23, 2022
Surgery to change one’s appearance or body shape is critically important for some kids.
The issue often is a sensitive one for kids and their parents. Appearance concerns such as protruding ears or a bump on the face can cause significant distress, affecting a young person’s self-image and quality of life.
UH pediatric plastic surgeon Edward Davidson, MD, calls surgery to correct such problems “appearance-related corrective surgery,” rather than cosmetic surgery.
“Surgery for appearance-related issues is not necessarily cosmetic surgery,” Dr. Davidson says. “Cosmetic surgery is taking something in the normal range and somehow making it better. Appearance-related surgery for facial differences such as prominent ears can positively impact issues of self-image and even bullying.”
Social media culture has fueled a rise in plastic surgery among teens, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Appearance-related surgery in kids often involves fixing ears and breasts. Girls can have excessive breast development or asymmetry, which may cause significant problems. Boys can have a condition called gynecomastia that results in excessive breast tissue.
In teen girls, breast-reduction surgery may be needed to improve function.
“Many girls want it because they have back pain or it is affecting their ability to participate in athletics,” says UH developmental and behavioral pediatrician Catherine Scherer, DO. “They’re doing it to improve their quality of life.”
Dr. Davidson says patient families may have concerns about costs, but often surgery is covered by insurance
Decisions about surgery require careful consideration. Sometimes parents of young children come in for a consultation because they are worried about problems that may arise, Dr. Davidson says.
But it’s important to wait until children are of age to make decisions about what they want and why they want it. What is motivating an adolescent to seek plastic surgery?
“If it’s an appearance-related issue, what is the child’s take on it? Decisions about surgery have to be patient driven. The child must decide they want to do something about it,” Dr. Davidson says.
Dr. Scherer agrees parents should not push their kids to undergo surgery.
“Typically, they are not going to be able to understand the risk and benefits of surgery until their teens,” she says. “It requires maturity and ability to consent to what’s going to be done to their bodies.”
A child’s mental health should be considered when the family makes a decision to proceed, says Dr. Scherer.
“If a child has anxiety or depression, this should be treated before surgery because it can impact a child’s willingness to follow post-operative instructions and their own happiness with the outcome.”
Kids also need to be prepared for changes in their appearance after surgery.
“Sometimes that can be startling to them and their friend group,” Dr. Scherer says.
She advises that a first step for parents and teens is to talk with a pediatrician.
Learn more about Pediatric Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at University Hospitals.