Alarm bells go off when you see the headline “Six-Year-Old Undergoes Cosmetic Surgery” – until you learn that the surgery was done to correct a natural anomaly that led to relentless bullying at school. Six-year-old Gage Berger of Utah was called “elf ears,” which caused him to feel really down on himself, said his mother, Kallie.
Over the course of a year, the “playful, outgoing” boy had changed into a quiet child who kept to himself and dreaded the school day. “I’d catch him looking in the mirror and trying to pin them back,” said his father, Timothy, “and when he got nervous or upset or when he was in trouble, he’d physically grab his ears. It was subconscious. It was him thinking that his ears were the problem and that was why he must be in trouble.”
Fearing that the cruel bullying would cause permanent damage, they opted to see a surgeon. “This isn’t any different than taking your child to get braces to ‘fix’ the appearance of crooked teeth,” Timothy Berger explained, adding that his son was “excited” to have the life-changing procedure done.
Ear surgery for children in NYC
“The otoplasty plastic surgery procedure is not unusual for young children,” explains Dr. Aviva Preminger. While there are no available statistics for younger children, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports that more than 63,000 cosmetic surgeries were done on teenagers to correct physical characteristics in 2013.
Dr. Preminger adds, “We can do the procedure under local or general anesthesia in two hours. It’s done on an outpatient basis for adults, but usually we have children stay with us a bit longer to monitor them. Kids are back to school in a week with only mild and temporary symptoms like swelling, tenderness and itching for a few days after the surgery.”
The minimum age requirement for otoplasty is typically five – when the ears are at least 70-80 percent of their adult size, and the child is emotionally mature enough to understand what is happening, says Dr. Preminger.
Otoplasty can improve a child’s quality of life
Gage “grinned from ear to ear” when he saw his new look and his parents said their son is now back to his usual self again. He has been making many new friends during recess and he has the renewed confidence needed to stand up for himself should kids make an unkind remark for any other reason. Cosmetic surgery is not a blanket recommendation for every situation, but in this case, it truly helped the young boy turn a new leaf.
Social psychologists also recommend teaching children to celebrate their differences and cope with cruel japes. Offering sample scripts of how to respond and instructing them to “act brave, walk away and ignore the bully” can be helpful, as can praising the child for his or her management of the situation. Fostering self-esteem through extracurricular activities is another avenue for instilling confidence. When these strategies aren’t enough, parents can request a consultation with experienced board-certified NYC plastic surgeon Dr. Aviva Preminger at 212-706-1900.