The Supposed Quick Fix to Bullying: Parents Shouldn’t Let Kids Under the Knife


Published: May 5, 2011

It was a sunny Friday afternoon in the fifth grade when a few friends and I decided to embark on our usual end of the week adventure of picking up a slice of pizza and walking over to the local park to chat with other middle school girls about love notes and math quizzes.

But just outside the entrance, we were stopped by a gang of seventh grade boys who hurled insults at us as fast as they could shoot spitballs at an unsuspecting teacher.

“I’ve never seen a nose as big as yours,” the leader of the group of boys told me as the arms of what was clearly his father’s leather jacket enveloped his hands.

By then, I had become accustomed to the taunts of my peers, whether it was because of my braces, hairstyle, clothing choices or the general awkwardness of a developing body.

I haven’t yet met a single person who has claimed not to have been the victim of a bully while growing up. Dozens of movies have dealt with the topic (“Mean Girls,” anyone?). Recent news stories reported the devastating effects of bullying on young people as we sat frozen in horror in front of our television sets or computer screens.

When impressionable youth are being tormented in class, on the playground or while engaged in online chats, it makes sense that parents would attempt to do anything possible to protect their children from bullies. But misguided parents have taken their efforts too far.

Instead of educating children about the detrimental effects of bullying and correcting those who bully, the message some parents are sending to young ones is that bullying happens because there is something wrong with the victims.

Recently the New York Daily News reported that at the request of her mother, Samantha Shaw underwent plastic surgery to correct her protruding ears. Shaw is seven years old.

Her mother argued the surgery was performed on her daughter to prevent future bullying and boost her confidence. But there is something seriously flawed with this reasoning.

Shaw’s mother might believe that this ear pinning procedure, known as otoplasty, will act as a magic fix for her daughter, but this won’t put a stop to a bully’s harsh words. Another child can criticize any number of things, from the length of her hair to her choice of a lunchtime snack.

And when we tell the victims of bullying that they should change, what’s to stop children and parents alike from looking for a plastic surgeon every time a harsh word is uttered in the schoolyard?

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) reported that more than 200,000 children and teens went under the knife in 2009 as the number of children undergoing cosmetic surgery has increased by 30 percent over the last 10 years.

Some of you might even have gone to high school with girls who have asked and received nose jobs or breast implants for their sixteenth birthdays. I know I have. And sometimes the results put a damper on those sweet party plans.

According to the ASAPS, these young people most likely are subjecting themselves to pain and possible adverse side effects all in the name of increasing their popularity. Or, in Shaw’s case, her mother is looking to get her daughter a ticket to the in-crowd, courtesy of cosmetic surgery.

Though otoplasty is a relatively minor surgery that takes approximately one to two hours to perform, it doesn’t come without possible side effects including infection, scarring and blood clots. Shaw, who is still young enough to play dress up and spend her afternoons watching Disney movies, can hardly be expected to comprehend the potential consequences of this surgery.

What she can understand, however, is that what makes her different is bad and needs to be “fixed.” After all, even her own mother believes so.

Surgery is clearly not the same as buying your child the latest Coach bag. According to ABC news, parents are dropping anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 on a procedure. There goes the college fund!

And what about the bullies? Well, they’re left to hunt for a new flaw or simply move on to the next child whose parents can’t afford to drop a mini fortune on plastic surgery.

There are a variety of reasons why bullies behave in such negative and hurtful ways. Forensic psychologist and author Kathryn Seifert suggests that children who bully others might be suffering in a violent home and believe their behavior is normal. They might have no other way to release their anger or stress over an overwhelming family environment or drastic life event other than to pick on weaker children.

None of this has anything to do with a victim’s physical features or capabilities. Rather than risking their children’s health and emotional well-being, parents should be focused on demanding that educators and schools do more to combat bullying.

When I ran home from the park that day in tears, my parents comforted me with kind words and homemade cookies, not a trip to the plastic surgeon’s office. I only wish those surgery-obsessed parents would walk their children out of those stuffy waiting rooms and do the same.