How do you help a teen develop and maintain a healthy body image and good self-esteem? Doing so can be a real challenge.
Teens' bodies are growing and changing, perhaps making them self-conscious and hyper-aware of every blemish and extra pound. Teens also are constantly bombarded with idealized, often computer-enhanced, body images that are impossible to measure up to. These messages have the ability to manipulate all of us into thinking that we are too fat, too thin, too short, or too tall.
The good news is that, as a parent, you have more influence than you think to help your teen navigate this difficult time of life and develop a positive self-image, no matter their size or shape.
Both Girls and Boys Are Affected
Between glossy fashion magazines, MTV, social media, and popular movies, teenage girls can get the impression that fashion models and celebrities have perfect bodies and flawless skin. Many teenage boys compare themselves to the buff athletes and movie stars they see in magazines, the Internet, and on TV. They feel dissatisfied if their own bodies don't measure up.
In some cases, negative body image has been linked with depression, eating disorders, and other risky behaviors.
Teenage boys aren't usually as verbal about body image issues as girls, but that doesn't mean they don't experience them. Remember the story of the 98-pound weakling who had sand kicked in his face at the beach? On the other end, boys who are overweight often endure social isolation and even bullying in school. Boys also suffer from eating disorders. Unfortunately parents and doctors may overlook them, even if they are alert to such problems in girls.
If you believe your teen may be struggling with low self-esteem or body image issues, what can you do? Here are some simple steps. Of course, if you notice dramatic changes in your teen's weight or eating habits, touch base with a health care provider.
Teens, Body Image, and Self-Esteem: 5 Tips for Parents
1. Be a good role model. Your teen does notice.
Your teen is closely observing your lifestyle, eating habits, and attitudes about issues like appearance and weight, even if she seems to cringe every time you speak. Pay attention to the example you are setting, and make changes if you don't like what you see. Looking at yourself through your children's eyes can be a great motivator to begin an exercise program, adopt a healthier diet, or turn off the television and get moving instead.
Remember, your child will also model your attitudes about your body. So if you're constantly decrying your hip size or thinning hair, your child will learn to focus on her flaws instead of her attributes.
2. Be positive.
Never make critical remarks about your teen's body. If she has a weight problem, you can be sure she's aware of it. Negative remarks will only make her feel more discouraged and could make the problem worse.