‘My 14-year-old daughter wants lip fillers’
Ask the Expert: ‘She doesn’t understand why I’m saying no and I’m worried she is seeing herself in a negative way’
‘I was a bit taken aback when she asked because there is no way I will ever let that happen.’ Photograph: iStock
Question: I have a daughter aged 14 who told me the other day that she wants lip fillers. I was a bit taken aback when she asked because there is no way I will ever let that happen. It turns out that the older sister of a girl in her class (who was 16) got her lips done.
I can’t believe that any 16-year-old is old enough to do that, but apparently her mother was okay with it. I tried to explain to her that she’s too young, her lips are fine, etc, but she remains unconvinced.
She doesn’t understand why I’m saying no and I’m worried she is seeing herself in a negative way.
How can I help her?
Answer: Most parents would share your feelings and be against their 14-year-old daughters getting lip fillers. However, just as in the case of tattoos and body piercings, there is currently no law preventing children from accessing cosmetic treatments such as lip fillers and botox. While most salons that provide these treatments would be unlikely to let a child under 16 access their services without parental consent, the field remains completely unregulated.
There is a move to change this with the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, announcing plans to review how regulations might be established in a similar way that tanning salons were regulated in 2014 prohibiting them for children under the age of 18.
Aside from whether it is legal or not for your daughter to get lip fillers, your question centres on your worry as to why your daughter would ask to drastically change her appearance at such a young age. Young teenagers have always been under pressure about their appearance and having to look a certain way to fit in or to feel “good” about themselves. Driven by social media and the celebrity culture, this pressure has probably never been higher. Young girls and boys are bombarded with images of the “perfect” body which can make them feel inadequate and insecure.
In recent times there has been a huge growth in Ireland in the use of cosmetic treatments especially among women and these are championed by several well-known celebrities whose “before” and “after” images go viral on the internet. Young people are constantly being given the message that there is something wrong in how they currently look and that these treatments will somehow make them more attractive.
Your daughter also has a role model closer to home in that a classmate’s older sister has had lip fillers. Given this context, it is understandable that your daughter is questioning her appearance and that she might think that a cosmetic treatment is something she should pursue.
Helping your daughter
In helping your daughter the key is to help her talk about what is going on in her mind rather than simply correcting her. The temptation is to just say no and then to lecture her with the reasons why, but this has the danger of leaving her feeling judged and that you don’t understand her. This is something that young teenagers are very sensitive to, and it could cause her to not listen anymore and to pull away from you.
A different approach is to use her request to have lip fillers as an opportunity to listen, and understand. Ask her to explain, how she thinks lip fillers might make her more attractive. Listen carefully to her answers and all the feelings behind them. For example, there might be other issues going for her – perhaps someone has made a comment about her appearance that upset her or perhaps she is comparing herself to celebrities online. Once you understand what is going on for her, then you can encourage her to reflect about the issues by asking questions such as “do you think it is a good idea for someone to be made to feel bad about how they look?” or “do you think it is right that girls are put under so much pressure about their appearance?”
Or “do you think the celebrity images on the internet are real?” The goal is to help her become self-critical about the influences around her so she can make her own positive decisions. You can of course share your own view as a parent – “I would not like my daughter to have lip fillers and certainly not until you are much older”. It is important to give your message in the context of care and love her – “I want you to be happy with how you are”.
Balance of self-expression vs pressure and inadequacy
It is common for teenagers to change their appearance and to challenge the conventions of their parents – whether this is new fashions, extreme hairstyles, or piercings – this is all part of the growing up process. Sometimes this is driven by self-expression and a desire to find their own identity. Sometimes it is driven by inadequacy and a desire to fit in. Frequently it is a mixture of both positive and negative motivations. As a parent, the goal is to join your teenager on this journey and to help them tease out these issues for themselves.
You want to be a voice of reason among the negative pressures of peers and social media so they can discover their own style and an identity they are happy with. When they are young you can of course set some rules about the more extreme changes, eg no cosmetic treatments/tattoos etc.
However, in the long term you have to support them to make these decisions themselves, so taking time to listen and support as well as guide and inform them is very important.
John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. He is author of several parenting books including Positive Parenting and Parenting Teenagers. See solutiontalk.ie