As a parent, I always want what’s best for my children, or at least what I believe is best (they don’t always agree — what’s that all about?). I’m sure you feel the same way. So what is the appropriate thing to do if there is a part of your child’s body that they don’t like, or that may be causing them pain, or even ridicule?
A recent piece in People Magazine which was picked up by the Today Show, talked about this. For the most part these were a very good pieces, even though Ann Curry tried to make it controversial or “edgy.” However, this can be a bit of a sticky subject, but there are some very reasonable things that can be done to find our way through this.
There are certain conditions that absolutely lend themselves to surgical correction in adolescence. And, adolescence may even be the best time to do the surgery. In other conditions, the body may still be developing and waiting until later will give a better outcome. Talking with a Board-certified plastic surgeon who has experience with these operations will hep you understand the right timing in terms of physical development.
But the more difficult issues have to do with the motivation behind going forward with surgery. While some people recommend having the child (let’s say “patient,” instead of “child”) talk with psychologists to understand the motivation, I don’t really think this is necessary. To me the best approach is to talk with the patient, and parent to understand what issues are in play. And, I always treat the patient as an adult, because it’s his or her body that we are talking about. It’s important to have a very honest conversation, even when it can be awkward or embarrassing, and to make the patient an important part of the decision making process. If the patient is in pain because her breasts are too big, or he/she is being called “dumbo” because of ears that stick out, or he won’t take his shirt off or go to the pool because of male breast development, surgery can be a big help in many ways. Parents are sometimes amazed when we talk about this, and their kids open up about how this affects them.
But every operation involves some risks, even if they are minimal, and we have to talk about these. We have to discuss not only what the operation can do (the benefits), but what the process entails: the fact that there is a recovery process and down time, that there will be some pain, and that there will be some scars. in my experience, if the patient is really concerned about a part of their body, he or she will usually be extremely accepting of going through the process to have it corrected.
Some of the common operations include reduction mammoplasty (female breast reduction), treatment of gynecomastia (male breast reduction), otoplasty (treatment of protruding ears), scar revisions, and removal of birthmarks. Less commonly, I will consider liposuction (but not as a form of weight loss!)
To be sure, the decision to recommend surgery to anyone is not to be taken lightly, and — perhaps — even more so if the patient is your child. But, it can make a world of difference.
Does this approach make sense to you? What concerns would you have if your child was in this position?