When Can Girls Wear Heels & Other 'Adult' Shoes?

If you've ever been shoe shopping with a tween girl, you've no doubt faced an onslaught of whining and wheedling for a pair of high heels, or wedges, or (god forbid) stilettos, or something else that looks very grown-up ... and very uncomfortable. The thought of your daughter teetering around on those things seems like a broken ankle waiting to happen. Still, though, "everyone" else is wearing them and she claims she'll DIE if she's forced to wear plain old flats.

The experts say: Let her "die."

No matter how much your tween begs, try to hold off. "The later, the better, but at least until 13 years old," says Isaac Tabari, MD, chief podiatrist at NYC Podiatry Central of Excellence in New York.


The reason: During the tween years, the growth plates in her legs are still open (she's still growing at a rapid rate). Heels (particularly higher than two inches) can throw a wrench in that growth by shifting the plates, causing inflammation in her knees, ankles, and other areas. "In addition to that, wearing heels at such young age shortens the Achilles tendon," adds Dr. Tabari. This can cause chronic pain along the back of the leg (tendonitis) later in life.

Even after the age of 13, kids shouldn't wear heels for long stretches of time. "I wouldn't purchase wedge, kitten heels, or slide-on shoes to wear with regularity -- i.e., as a school shoe," says biomechanist Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA. That said, "fancy shoes for a special dance should be fine every now and then." 

As for which shoes are safest to start on, "lower and broader-based heels are best, spreading the child’s weight across the surface area of the shoe," says Pat Basu, MD, chief medical officer at Doctor on Demand, an online site where parents can consult with doctors. "Chunky heels are better than thin heels, a wedge heel is better than a single heel. The shoe should also have a wide toe area. Avoid the pointy-toed shoes and anything else that is restrictive to the foot."

The arch of the shoe is another important area to inspect. "The arch area should be be rigid so that when you bend the shoe, the shoe bends where your toe is bent, not where your arch is," says Dr. Tabari. Plus, "Rubber soles are recommended because they offer more cushioning and prevent falls. And avoid plastic soles."

Bottom line: It's fine for kids to wear "adult" shoes for special occasions as long as they are comfortable. Be aware of any redness on her feet or subconscious rubbing -- signs her feet her hurting, even though she may not want to share that with you.

At what age did your tween start wearing heels or other "adult" shoes?


Image © John-Francis Bourke/cultura/Corbis

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