A healthy body image is closely tied to self-esteem. If your teen is comfortable in his or her skin, it’s more likely that he or she will have confidence and positive self-esteem. On the other hand, a negative body image will hurt their sense of self-worth and have a ripple effect on other areas of life.
If you have a teen who struggles to see themselves in a positive light, here are six ways to help your teen develop a healthy and happy self-perspective.
1. Evaluate your own body image
Promoting a positive body image in your family can start with you. Teens do pay attention to their parents’ behavior and attitudes. This means that if you’re modeling a healthy body image in your own life, it will influence your children even if it seems like they aren’t listening.
The opposite is also true, so if you recognize a negative body image in yourself, work on addressing this first.
2. Avoid commenting on appearance
You may think that only negative comments can be harmful, but when you praise your child for their appearance, this sends the message that physical attributes are a priority. Instead, compliment your child on non-physical traits like honesty, intelligence, and creativity. This implies that they should focus on cultivating their talents and building their character rather than achieving an “ideal” and unattainable appearance.
Also avoid commenting on other people’s appearance, including your own. Even comments not directed at your child send the message that weight and appearance contribute to a person’s worth. While compliments on appearance can have their place, try to focus on character compliments for teens who are vulnerable to negative self-image.
3. Emphasize overall health
Rather than counting calories, avoiding certain foods or exercising to burn fat, emphasize an overall healthy lifestyle. Choose a variety of foods from different food groups. Eat for health and nutrition, not to lose weight. Exercise to get stronger and improve mood. The way you prepare meals for your family can greatly influence your child’s conception of food.
If you are in a situation where your doctor says your teen needs to lose weight, don’t use restrictive dieting methods or strict exercise regimens to achieve this. Instead, focus on making healthy food choices and establishing an exercise routine that fits in with your teen’s lifestyle.
4. Discuss media portrayals
TV, movies, magazines and the internet expose your children to unrealistic images of other people’s bodies. This can foster a negative image of their own bodies. The implication of media portrayals is that there is an “ideal” body type and that attaining this appearance will make someone worthy of praise and admiration.
Rather than cutting out media consumption entirely, discuss media portrayals with your son or daughter. Explain how these images are often edited on a computer to make the celebrities look thinner or more muscular than they really are. Talk about how the idea that there is an “ideal” body is false and that the media often neglects to show diverse body types. Encourage your son or daughter to challenge and question the images on TV rather than accepting them at face value.
5. Celebrate diversity in body Types
In addition to comparing themselves to celebrities, many teens compare themselves to their peers. They may admire a friend, classmate, or teammate’s appearance and wish they could look the same way. That’s why it’s important to talk about body diversity with your children.
Tell your teen that different body types, skin tones, hair colors, and other traits are all beautiful. Doing so will help your child develop an attitude of acceptance for all body types, including his or her own.
6. Accept them the way they are now
Let your children know that you accept them the way they are right now. Assure them that they have your unconditional love and support, no matter what they look like. When teens have a strong foundation of love and acceptance, this helps them maintain a positive body image.
How do I know if my child’s body image is an issue?
It’s natural for teens to go through periods of body dissatisfaction, especially as they enter puberty. In many cases, a parent’s support and intervention are enough to help children develop a positive view of themselves. But how do you know if your child will outgrow this phase, or if they need additional help? Here are some signs to look out for.
Occupation with weight:
- Spending a lot of time thinking about their weight;
- Changing their eating habits (eating significantly less or more than needed);
- Keeping a strict exercise routine;
- Focusing on calories and intake of certain food groups;
- Making frequent trips to the bathroom after meals;
- Withdrawing from family or friends;
- Avoiding activities they once enjoyed;
- Talking about feeling fat or wanting to lose weight;
- Skipping family mealtimes;
- Refusing to eat in front of others.
Occupation with appearance:
- Focusing on a perceived flaw in appearance;
- Frequently checking appearance in a mirror;
- Trying to hide a perceived flaw with makeup, styling or clothing;
- Comparing themselves to others;
- Frequently seeking reassurance about their appearance.
These are some of the signs of eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder, respectively. If your teen shows any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor or seek an evaluation from a mental health professional.
Professional eating disorder evaluations from Seeds of Hope
If you are concerned that your teen has an eating disorder, Seeds of Hope offers professional evaluations. Contact one of our treatment locations to discuss your child’s needs, or call 610-644-6464, to connect with potentially life-saving help.