One of the most memorable books I ever read on parenting was “The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do” by Judith Rich Harris.
When the book came out in 1998, it created a stir because of Harris’ contention that parents matter little; peers and biology matter more. “Parenting matters zilch, ” said Harris.
Harris proposed that the most significant environmental influence comes from outside the home, in the playgrounds and the schoolrooms and the places where children teach each other how to live. Her work ties together phenomena that argue against parental influence — evidence that twins reared together are no more alike than those reared apart, for example, and that the children of immigrants speak the language of their peers, not their parents.
In fact, she suggested in her book that parents consider plastic surgery for their children if they had some facial feature — big nose or ears — that provoked teasing. (She also recommended moving if your child fell in with a dangerous peer group.)
Harris earned a lot of criticism for her theory, but today plastic surgery is becoming an increasing option for bullied kids. First, there was this “Nightline” report about a 13-year-old child model who underwent a nose job because of teasing on Facebook.
Her mother told “Nightline” that kids kept posting, ‘Hey big nose.” The surgeon involved said a quarter of his rhinoplasty patients were teens, and bullying was a factor in their decisions to go under the knife.
Now, CNN has a story about 14-year-old Georgia teen Nadia Ilse who was given free corrective surgery for her ears to stop classmates from calling her “Dumbo” and “elephant ears.”
I am sure that Harris would agree that the surgery was justified in these cases, but I wonder about the message of remaking yourself in response to the bullies and petty tyrants in your life. There will always be someone who finds fault with your nose, your chin or your ears.
Is this the right response to bullies — changing yourself to deflect their barbs?
To ward off school bullies who began taunting her in the first grade for her ears, Nadia begged her mother at the age of 10 for an otoplasty — an operation to pin her ears back.
The teen, now 14, was recently granted her wish by the Little Baby Face Foundation, a charity that provides free corrective surgery to children born with facial deformities.
Avoiding school bullying by going under the knife is on the rise among American teens. In 2007 alone, about 90,000 youth underwent cosmetic surgery — though not all cases were the result of teasing.
Nadia told CNN that the bullying turned her talkative self into a withdrawn, antisocial girl. The taunting “hurt so much,” she told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
When the Little Baby Face Foundation was contacted by Nadia’s mother, the organization brought the duo to New York City from Georgia and did more than just pin her ears back. The organization’s founder, Dr. Thomas Romo, III. also performed reduction rhinoplasty, reducing the size of the nose, and mentoplasty, altering the chin.
The foundation covered the estimated $40,000 cost of surgery.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog