One of the historic physical features that commonly leads to teasing and ridicule is that of the ears that stick out too far. Known as ‘dumbo’. ‘elephant ears’ and other equally unflattering names, ears that project too far away from the side of the head causes a child or an adult to look different. Undergoing an otoplasty or pinning of the ears is a well known and highly successful plastic surgery procedure that can cure that physical problem.
While teasing for protruding ears is unfortunately not rare, I recently saw a young patient whose mother told me that she was being bullied because of her ears. While I am not sure it matters whether one is being teased or bullied, it does cause me to ponder what the difference between these two undesireable behaviors are.
Teasing is a behavior that has been around since the beginning of time. Poking fun at each other to some degree is what children do. A little bit of it is natural and some may argue that it is even an important part of a child’s social development. A little bit of it can have a positive social impact as it helps develop friendships and bonding. It can have a positive impact if not carried too far.
Bullying, conversely, has a negative social impact. Bullying is teasing carried to the level of creating harm, usually with the purpose of the bully gaining increased social status. And it is almost always very personal, directed at a physical feature or a personal behavior. While at one time such behavior was limited to a smaller circle of people, today’s electronic world makes its impact much more substantial and exposed to a larger number of people. One could argue today that being teased about an obvious personal feature is no longer just teasing but constitutes bullying because of its wide reaching audience. It is always harmful and certainly does not help a child’s self-image.
Whenever possible, otoplasty surgery should be done when a child is being teased about their protruding ears. If a child reports to their parents about being teased about their ears, you can be certain that it is being done much more than the child states and is already having a negative impact. The good news is that otoplasty can be done quite early, even as young as age 4 or 5. It can be done as a pre-emptive strike on what may happen if the parents so desire before the child starts formal schooling.
Otoplasty is a fairly simple outpatient procedure that takes about one hour to perform. In children it is always best to do the procedure under general anesthesia. The procedure is tailored with children in mind so no sutures need to be removed from the back of the ear. An ear dressing is kept in place for a few days. Summertime is a common time of the year for otoplasty in children as it does not interfere with school.
Bullying for protruding ears can be remedied quickly with otoplasty and is associated with very high satisfaction rates and dramatic improvements in their self–image.
Dr. Barry Eppley