Augusta University
Mental Health Parenting

Are selfies making your teen want plastic surgery?

Last year, more than 200,000 teens had plastic surgery, and looking better in selfies was a big reason why, according to more than 40 percent of surgeons in a recent American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery survey.

“There’s always been strong evidence that media portrayals of ideal beauty push the problem of low self-image,” said Dr. Dale Peeples, a pediatric psychiatrist at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. “Social media brings a new element to it, including how we can combat the distorted pictures of what some kids are now viewing as the physical ideal.”

Whether it’s duck lips, a smaller nose, “glass” skin, super-tiny waists or something else, filtered celebrity selfies can have a real impact on a teen’s self-image, especially if your teen is a heavy social media user.

“Starting in the tween years, parents need to be on guard and start paying attention to some of these perhaps inaccurate thoughts about body ideals popping up and developing,” said Peeples.

It tends to be human nature to compare yourself to others and possibly become anxious or depressed when you have this inward dissatisfaction with your outward appearance.

But before social media or traditional media, you really could only compare yourself with everyone around you in the community. “But now, you can compare yourself to the most attractive people in any corner of the globe, and average beauty standards become elevated,” said Peeples.

For young women, this can show up as eating disorders or an interest in surgery. With guys, you can add in possible steroid use to look larger and more muscular.

So what can parents do?

The easy answer is to get your teen off social media. But unlike with young children, there are no set guidelines on how much is too much. So it really comes down to your gut feeling as a parent: “If you see that they’re spending a lot of time or that’s pretty much all they’re doing, set some ground rules on cutting back,” said Peeples.

For instance:

  • Mealtimes should always be a screen-free zone.
  • No social media should be allowed when it’s homework time.
  • You can also say that screens should be off at least an hour or a half-hour before bedtime, which has the added benefit of helping your child fall asleep more easily.
  • If you have the space, ideally computers should only be used in a shared space of the home, like a living room or office.
  • Establish time limits on screen use, and stick to them. And remember: As parents, we also need to keep our faces out of our phones because our kids pay attention to what we say—and what we actually do.

Then, without social media to suck up all of your child’s time, find other activities to boost his or her self-image.

The goal should be to help promote your child’s self-esteem across multiple domains. Schoolwork and academic excellence can be one. Creative activities, like music, art or performing, can be another. And sports and athletics can be yet another. “That way, their self-esteem and self-worth and value aren’t just wrapped up in their appearance,” said Peeples.

Teens are also old enough to understand that sometimes media has hidden messages. That model or actress with the great skin who’s pushing a beauty product? She was probably hired to help sell that product because she already had great skin—the result of a strict diet and exercise, weekly facials and other treatments.

And that #nomakeup #Iwokeuplikethis selfie? Get your teen to consider how much Photoshop or filtering might have been involved—and whether or not makeup actually was used. Remember too that anyone can look amazing in the right lighting, the right angle and after taking 100 practice shots before posting the perfect image.

“You just want kids to be mindful when they’re comparing themselves, especially to someone online,” said Peeples.

Finally, think about the kind of messages your child has been getting at home. Is there a feeling that there is a beauty ideal that needs to be lived up to? “Or are they receiving more of that message of unconditional acceptance, that parents want them to be happy and loves them, regardless of the way they look?” said Peeples.

Talk to us.
The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has one of the area’s largest child and adolescent psychiatry and psychology programs, with specialists who can help with anxiety and depression. For an appointment, call 706-721-9331.

About the author

Children's Hospital of Georgia

Children's Hospital of Georgia

Children’s Hospital of Georgia is the only facility in the area dedicated exclusively to children. It staffs the largest team of pediatric specialists in the region who deliver out- and in- patient care for everything from common childhood illnesses to life-threatening conditions like heart disorders, cancer and neurological diseases.

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