Should Children Get Relaxers?

39 Comments
April 29, 2011 ‐ By Dr. Phoenyx Austin

 

I can remember a time not too long ago, when natural hair was definitely not the way to go. It was something that you needed to “press” or “perm” for it to “look right.” And you could count on one hand the number of natural haired women on TV. Fortunately, things have changed. We have many black women in the mainstream wearing and supporting natural hair. And most recently I was put on to the Dead Prez’s “The Beauty Within”- a beautiful song celebrating natural hair.

Hair is a hot topic among black women. And many times it comes in the form of the relaxed vs. natural debate. Let me go on the record with stating that I’m a natural hair woman. I am anti-relaxers. But I do not press my beliefs on black women who choose to relax their own hair. Black women are adults and can make their own hair decision. So with that aside, I’d like to turn this topic over to black children- specifically little black girls.

Lots of natural-haired women who transitioned first started getting relaxers when they were children. In fact, it’s very common for most black girls to get relaxers. I got my first relaxer in kindergarten. And just like me, many natural haired women confess that they never even knew what their natural hair looked like before they transitioned- which is pretty sad. Oftentimes parents start their daughters off with relaxers at a very young age. They will relax their child’s hair to make it “more manageable,” “socially acceptable,” or even “more attractive.” They will even make comments to their child about how relaxed hair is “better than” natural hair. And unfortunately I’ve seen so many cases where parents choosing to relax at an early age ultimately led to their little girl(s) developing issues with self-image, self-esteem, and even serious hair problems (i.e. hair loss).

While I think that grown women can do whatever they want to their hair, I personally do not believe relaxers should be used on children. Why?  My reason is threefold.

One, from a professional standpoint, I don’t think relaxers are even healthy for adults, let alone children. Remember the soda can scene in Good Hair? Two,  I think relaxing a child’s hair to make it “socially acceptable” and “attractive” will ultimately lead a little girl to reason and believe that their natural hair is something that’s “less acceptable” and not as “attractive” without some sort of chemical alteration. And three, it is my belief that the decision to relax a child’s hair is also about a lack of knowledge about natural hair care. And considering all the current advancements in hair care, like tons of wonderful natural hair products, natural hair websites, as well as natural hair salons, I think we are at the time where relaxing a child’s hair should be the rare exception and not the rule.

Little black girls really need positive reinforcement about their natural beauty. And relaxing a child’s hair at an early age, before they’ve even seen their own natural hair, and before they’ve been taught to appreciate and style their own natural hair, could ultimately lead to hair related issues later on in life. Grant it, a child may grow up and ultimately decide that she wants a relaxer. But that decision should be made only after she has been given the opportunity to develop a positive self-image through loving and appreciating her natural hair.

What are your thoughts on relaxers and little girls?

If a child/parent does want a relaxer, when do you think is the most age appropriate time to get a relaxer?

Liked this article and want to know more about our writer Dr. Phoenyx Austin? Well show her some love on her Facebook fan page. A phenomenal mix of brains and beauty, Dr. Phoenyx is a physician, beauty & lifestyle writer, and media personality who encourages all women to be fierce and fabulous! And you can also follow her on Twitter @Dr_Phoenyx!

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  • Someone

    People please research on why African-Americans wanted straight hair in the first place. The whites use to torture blacks and the one way to get their self-esteem down was to talk about their hair. Slaves tried everything to lay their hair down some even used cooking oil and fat. The main idea for making a relaxer was to be accepted by the whites. Since times have changed and relaxers became a routine people only know that they relax their hair for manageability but there is a deeper history behind it. Everyone has their own thing if you can use a relaxer and have long healthy flowing locks than you do that. If you can be natural and have long healthy flowing locks then you do that too. There’s no need to argue its like fighting over a religion everyone has their own views. 

  • chloe

    i am thinking if texturise my daughter her as hair time is a nightmare she cries and screams as her hair is being done i tried to be as gentle as i can. her hair is not that bad just long and thick and is hard when section to braid. i also get worried about the noise as i am sure all the neighbours can hear her, i buy all the different products for detangle children hair with no luck. so i am no thinking of texturise just to make it more mangerable. i also have a shoulder injury which is not helping. any comments would be appreciate

  • http://www.facebook.com/monica.stephens3 Monica Stephens

    It's funny to me that people think relaxing one's hair equals laziness….it actually takes more time and effort to keep relaxed hair looking decent, since you've altered what it naturally wants to do. I have lived with both relaxed and natural hair, with the TWA and with locks, and I gotta tell you: If you wanna be "lazy", natural is the way to go! It's much easier!

    As for the issue at hand: I don't agree with relaxing little girls' hair. I just believe it's too dangerous for their still-developing hair patterns/health. If, as the child gets older and more involved in their self-care, they ASK for a relaxer, then it can be discussed and agreed upon. I have a daughter, and I plan to keep her hair natural until she is solely responsible for caring for it; hopefully by then she will be well-acquainted with the versatility and beauty of her unaltered hair and will want to keep it that way.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Monique-Semet/100000016563041 Monique Semet

    I don't relax my daughter's hair and actually went natural because I felt I wasn't being a good influence on her. I had hair past my shoulders and in a wrap. My six year with beautiful, thick, curly hair would cry because she couldn't wear her hair like mines. I had already been thinking about going natural but when I saw the effect I was having on my daughter, making her think something was wrong with her hair I cut it all off and went natural. I'd had relaxers since I was 8 courtesy of the same thick hair my daughter has. It took a while to actually learn how to deal with my hair but I'm happy with the decision. Since going natural my daughter no longer thinks her hair has to be pressed to be cute. I don't believe in putting chemicals in children's hair but do believe it is at the discretion of the parent. I do however, hope we can reach a point where we are more accepting of ourselves but as long as natural hair is looked at as "nappy" that will never happen.

  • Adrienne

    I have naturally long hair which used to touch my waist. Now at almost 50, it's down to the middle of my back. My texture is wavy and often referred to as "good" hair by other Black women. For years I relaxed it but now I don't. It's always amazing how many women walk up to me and ask if my hair is real and insist on touching it to be sure I'm telling the truth! LOL Black women are truly obsessed with hair which to me is sad. I spent years being bullied because of having long hair. I don't have a daughter but if I did, I wouldn't relax her hair. I'd also teach her long hair isn't superior to short hair. It's not what's ON your head that counts, but what's IN it.

  • keesha

    When will natural women stop being the judge and jury and realize that NOT EVERY BLACK WOMAN want an afro or to lock their hair. I have been transitioning my hair for almost a year because i want it to be more healthy but guess what, most people around me don't even know it. I don't have to validate my blackness or prove my self esteem by wearing seashells in my hair.

  • keesha

    We have to equip our kids with so many things to prepare them to go out and face this world. Focusing on relaxed vs natural is foolish when we may need to focus on the overall presentation. The importance of a neat and clean appearance – because natural or relaxed, the hair should always be presentable and well groomed, the importance of good oral hygiene, personal hygiene and the importance of speaking well and holding an intelligent conversation.

  • keesha

    There are sooo many judges and juries on here. With all of the comments saying "when i have a child" or "parents need to take more time with their kids", those are very judgmental things to say. Until you are there, stop thinking you have ALL answers.

  • Miss E

    I have a 10 year old daughter and I have often thought about relaxing her hair. I even came close to doing it once and changed my mine. I feel that it is the parent's choice and for me, my daughter's hair will remain natural. If she decides later to change it, then I will be ok with that but for now I love her hair in the state it is.

  • Trice

    We are constantly "debating the natural hair issue' and I am sick and tired of the idea that relaxing our hair is an effort to "fit some false beauty ideal." I want to know how many of these people have extremely thick, long and coarse hair. While I haven't relaxed my daughters hair, it is not because I have fallen an trying to "build a foundation of love and respect for her natural hair." Her natural hair is a lot of work to maintain. I keep it in cornrows because I don't have the time to deal with it every day. I condition her hair regularly but it is just like my hair and conditioner and trims make it a little easier to manage but I just don't want her hair to rule her life. My daughter swims, dances and is very active. Have any of these "natural hair" advocates ever considered how difficult it is to manage thick, coarse hair and live an active life? Have they ever considered that one might relax their hair because it makes it extremely easier to manage?

  • BlackDiamond

    this article is biased. since when did relaxing your hair make you a lazy person? why is it a bad thing to relax your hair? it seems that natural -haired women thinks less of a woman who relaxes her hair. this is beyond ignorant to me.

  • prettyLady

    agreed

  • BK Chica

    No, perms is not good for children hair let alone an adults. I got my hair relaxed around 8 or 9 and looking back at it, it was the "easy way out" to do my hair. The chemical burns were the worst though. Say what you want, there is no such thing as a perfect perm. Trust, most of these people hairlines be looking like Naomi Campbell from getting constant perms and/or weaves. I am good, I have been free of the perm for over 6 years. As usual, to each its own…..
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  • April

    I wouldn't relax my daughter's hair, when I have one. I want to teach her that there is beauty in the way that she was born. I also think that those black women who don't learn or take the time to deal with their daughters' hair, however thick or "unruly" it may be, are selfish and lazy. Taking care of your daughter or son in all respects should be something that all mothers indulge in. Doing your child's hair is a part of that. How can anyone think it's ok to put chemicals to their children? Hair, body, external organs or otherwise? After all the facts being brought to light and research done, why are we still doing this to our children? I don't find straight hair appealing, but even if one did straighten her child's hair, why not opt for something safer like blowouts, or flat irons? Heat damage is a motha too, but why not the lesser of all the evils?

  • DAISY

    I AM A COSMETOLOGIST AND VERY KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT HAIR. I DON'T THINK A CHILD SHOULD HAVE CHEMICALS PUT ON THEIR HAIR. EXCEPTION TO THE RULE WOULD BE IF EITHER OF THEIR PARENT IS A TRAINED AND KNOWLEDGEABLE COSMETOLOGIST. "KNOWLEDGEABLE" BEING THE KEY WORD!! JUST LIKE ANYTHING ELSE, THERE ARE GOOD AND BAD BEAUTICIAN.

  • Melissa

    my grandmother who was a licensed beautician relaxed my hair for the first time when I was 2 years old. Some of you may be shocked, appalled or whatever but who cares. Anyway that relaxer "Precise" started growing my hair and by age 8 I had hair all the way to the lower part of my back. Im not saying what she did was right. But hey that was back in 1974, she did what she thought was best. I love and miss her everyday she passed away one month ago.

  • Dimples

    No, I don't think a young child's hair should be relaxed. I was tenderheaded and had long hair as did my 3 sisters. My mom pressed our hair. I did not relax my hair until I was in my late 30's and only because I moved to a state where the stylists felt it necessary to put so much grease in my hair to press it. I now have been natural for over 8 years and love it! BTW, self-esteem has nothing to do with having a relaxer.

  • natalie

    I received a relaxer at a very young age because my hair was thick and im tender head to this day. My slef esteem is higher than most ppl I know. I don't get relaxers offten now maybe two to three times a year just because I rather not have to deal with my hair. I don't think there is anything worng with relaxing your child hair even at a young age. Yes, will relax my child hair if she cries every time I put a comb in her hair like I did when I was young. It all depends on the child.

  • Mynda

    At some point you may have to think about what is best for your child's self-esteem. You can do your best to instill in her that her own natural hair is beautiful, but if she wants to have straight hair like the people she sees on TV, and she will feel ugly without it (and sometimes we can't help that; sometimes pop culture speaks louder to our children than we do…), then as a parent you may have to take that into consideration. My daughter is half-white and I braid her hair up because that is what I know how to do to take care of her hair. She's only seven now, but if she turns ten and feels she might be prettier with a flat iron or relaxer, I might consider it (this is a possibility because no matter what I say, my daughter wants to be Beyonce). To me, high self esteem is more important than a hairstyle. And she can change it up when she changes her mind. That's what's awesome about hair. (BTW, my hair is natural and i wouldn't wear it any other way.)

    • Mynda

      I totally agree with your sentiment, especially your last sentence (dialogue, gotta love it!). And I positively make sure that my daughter has the tools she needs to know how to take care of her beautiful hair, and I make sure that she KNOWS that it is beautiful. I agree that the standards society sets have to stop somewhere, but to me (and I admit, I'm kind of a slacker mom) when a girl gets to be a certain age, you set the boundaries, and she has to live within them. Hair is an expression of self. It's strange, isn't it, how we debate this stuff, while white moms' daughters dye their hair 50 different colors, they just shrug and say "She'll grow out of it". I guess that's where I'm going with this. I'm going to help keep it healthy, curly or straight, and even if I don't like it (which if she decides to straighten it, I won't. her hair is great the way it is. Just like mine is.) I'm going to shrug and say, "She'll grow out of it." Which, if she's anything like her mom, she will.

    • April

      Well said Melanie. We need to take pride in the way that we were born, in what comes naturally to our bodies. It is indeed silly many black women don't know how to deal with their hair in its natural state. That has to change. We're beautiful without the chemicals and without the straight hair.

  • Devious D

    Hmm you have locks so you can't say its not hard to manage I have been transitioning and my arms have never been put to harder work. But I will say I have gotten so many compliments I doubt I lock up like I was planning well @ least for now!!! I also am doubtful that my hair will loc!!

    • nursedred

      Locks are easy. Barely any work at all

  • Qui

    I will not relax my daughter's hair. I will let her make that decision when she is older. I feel the same way about vegetarian and other core value type of items (although it's hard not to be biased obviously). But, I wouldn't knock someone who chooses that

  • Tasha Sure

    no i don't beleive they should..smh..Uggs Giving Away Stuff After PETA called them out.. http://goo.gl/OeFMB to Get Consumers to Support them….haha got 2 pair!

  • BossLadee

    relaxers are chemicals people!!!! please understand that fact is fact a chemical on the scalp OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME is HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH… some data that has been collected" relaxers/perms have caused miscarriages, birth defects, upper respiratory problems, nasal problems, blood cancers….thyroid diseases… I just want every one to be aware… yeah it is more manageable and blah blah blah but that chemical is affecting most women of color and they don't even know it. please stop making excuses with giving your own natural hair the attention it deserves… Learn how to come course textured hair with the right combs , read up on the right products to use on your hair and your child's hair so that it does not become so dry.. know that natural textured course hair is naturally dry and that you have to moisturize more often than normal. know that we are not stupid….just lacking knowledge of what it takes to maintain a healthy head of naturally textured hair…… Just know that self hate is much deeper mentally than you think…… the images that we see from TV to what we here from our own family members about our hair is part of the reason we think its " better" to get a daggone perm or relaxer. relaxers are chemicals that kill the texture of your hair.. once the hair become "bone straight" i don't care if you wait three months or more it still is dead at the ends.. the root is the only part that is still natural after three months…. please people embrace the truth… embrace the fact that people of color have a different texture of hair there fore require different types of products to get the results like moisturized and healthy hair….. smh…. this has been a debate for the last 60 years and i am not sure if we will ever get it…. relaxers are dangerous more for our health that how our hair looks….. read research then read again……..

    • Nubian Goddess

      You can be killed in a car accident…does that stop you from getting in a car day after day? No! You follow the safety precautions like wearing a safety belt, esuring your tires are properly inflated, and adhering to traffic lights and signs. Caring for relaxed hair is the same way. You take the necessary precautions like going to a salon where women (and men) have been properly trained to relax, wash, and condition relaxed hair. You relaxed your hair every 8 to 12 weeks, depending on your hair's needs. You ensure that your stylist uses the best of the best products, you keep your ends clipped, you don't overheat your hair with curling irons, and you maintain your hair between appointments. You drink water, get enough rest, and take vitamins for your hair. I'm so sick and tired of this hair debate. There is a "safter" way to wear relaxed hair, weaves, etc. and I wouldn't dare ask a black woman to put limitations on anything that makes her feel beautiful if she is doing so in a safe way.

      • April

        There are also safer ways to wear straight hair. There is no way to safely relax your hair. Your hair is already in a compromised state with chemicals. Chemicals are not necessary to get straight hair.

      • Trice

        Thank you Nubian Goddess! I feel the same way and some people don't like dreads and twist. Isn't this a free country?

    • natalie

      Just because you are not natural does not mean you have self hate. It is a preference! Some ppl like soft waves, deep waves, short, long, and relaxed. SO WHAT!? To me this is a stupid debate and it has ppl of color choosing sides like "light skin or dark skin." There should not be a debate over which one someone should do for their child, its their choice. You do what you think is right, end of story!

    • Trice

      Black women are not the only women that use chemicals to modify their natural hair. Women of ALL ethnicities use chemicals to straighten, curl and COLOR their hair. Are you calling them ignorant and stupid? What about the chemicals in cosmetics, shampoos and conditioners? I will wear a relaxer if I want to and I am NOT stupid!

      • Suechel

        True, my niece is Latino and she has hair down to the middle of her back, her mom uses a kiddies relaxer and no one is judging her for it.

  • Prissy

    I was 10 yeas old my first relaxer. My mom took me to the salon with her. My hair is coarse and thick. My dad was PISSED when I got home. He went OFF. LOL But it is just easier to manage my hair when it is relaxed. I wait 3 months in between each time.

    • melanie

      wow, you're able to wait 3 months between relaxing your hair even though it's so 'coarse and thick'? Forgive me for the ignorance, because I'm not a beautician, but doesn't your hair start breaking if you wait that long…I mean I know women who only relax a few times a year, but they're usually able to do so because their natural hair isn't as coarse.

      especially if its so coarse, wouldn't the relaxed hair and the roots be like having 2 totally different hair textures on your head?

      • Prissy

        NOPE. I take VERY good care of my hair. And come to think of it… Most women who go around touting to be "natural" hair looks and feels BROKEN and unhealthy. SOoo your comment/question doesn't make sense to me. Not being rude but I am 23, so clearly I know how to deal with my hair. Whatever works for you… works for YOU. For me getting a relaxer ever 3 months is GREAT. I do NOT put alcohol products in my hair. I use mango butter NOT grease. NO oil sheen. My hair is in tip top condition. ;-)

  • Nubian Goddess

    Here we go with this again. **SIGH** Do what works for you and your family…who cares what anyone else thinks!

    • melanie

      I have to disagree, this is something that can affect the health of the child, so it really shouldn't just be 'do whatever you like'. It just doesn't seem healthy to be relaxing a little kids hair, even if its with those 'just for me' types, thats putting pretty strong chemical on young hair follicles.

      And just a personal observation, if an 8 year old is getting a perm, what's she going to do for her middle school dances? Get a weave? I say that to mean, sometimes it feels like when kids let their kids (especially girls) do a lot when they're young, they tend to keep pushing the envelope because it's like they have nothing left as a 'wait until you're older' rule.

    • Hump

      The facts regarding the dangerous chemicals used in perms, relaxers, etc… are widely known, it's clearly not healthy for any child, and this is your advice? Come on now…