Most patients seeking out plastic surgery are adults, but it has become much more common with the teenage crowd. According to American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) statistics, nearly 219,000 cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed on teens in 2010. There are differences in how teens and adults view cosmetic surgery. Adults seeking changes to their body may want to stand out from the crowd -- look younger than their peers, for example. Most teens interested in altering their body through plastic surgery are looking to blend in with their peers.
What are teens having done?
Most teens are looking to change physical characteristics that make them feel self-conscious: a misshapen nose, large breasts, asymmetrical breasts or ears that protrude. While there may be health benefits to some procedures (breast reduction can reduce back pain, for example) most procedures are cosmetic in nature and done to improve confidence or self-esteem. Teen girls who have either a female relative or a friend who has had plastic surgery may see the increase in confidence first-hand and be more likely to want surgery themselves.
Experts weigh in
The ASPS has no formal position on plastic surgery for teenagers, but advises parents to carefully consider the physical and emotional maturity of their teen before agreeing to any surgery. Not every teen seeking plastic surgery is a good candidate. They need to have an understanding of the limitations of plastic surgery, and that the potential benefits come with risks. Above all, the teen should be the one initiating the request for surgery, have realistic goals for what the outcome will be and have enough maturity to deal with the healing process.
Amanda Smith, assistant director of health education programs at the University of Texas at Dallas, specializes in working with students who have body-image issues. She says most teens lack the ability to understand the magnitude of this permanent change they are making to their bodies. "They don't understand it. They're still at that age where it's hard to even visualize, to think long-term and project down the road," she said. "If they have the surgery that early in life, they'll never know if they would end up growing into [their features] or actually embracing them."
The bottom line
Plastic surgery is not something to be taken lightly. Reputable surgeons will screen potential teen clients very carefully, and will not perform cosmetic surgery on teens being treated for clinical depression, other mental illnesses, those prone to erratic behavior, or who are abusing alcohol or drugs. Make sure your teen understands the risks and limitations of plastic surgery before you agree to an operation.