Monica S. Guirguis
DO – Pediatrics
Teenagers often feel self-conscious about the changes their bodies are going through, with social media playing a big role in forming unrealistic expectations of what they “should” look like.
As a parent, you can help your teen navigate this challenging time and build a positive body image.
Why Don’t I Look Like That?
Children typically become aware of their body image between the ages of 9 and 11. However, today’s constant access to social media means children are paying attention to what their bodies look like even earlier.
Many factors in today’s world make children more aware of body image, including:
● Exposure to media and advertising
● Genetic predispositions to eating disorders
● Overhearing adults talk about body image and weight issues.
As a parent, you are in a great position to help your child build strong self-esteem that lasts a lifetime. For example, focus on how eating healthy foods and working out help your kids to be strong and healthy. Don’t suggest diet and exercise as a way to meet a certain beauty ideal.
It’s important to consider your own attitudes on body image, exercise and weight, and what messages you might be sending to your child when you talk about these topics. Pay attention to the example you are setting and adjust as needed.
Starting the Conversation
Addressing body image is a challenging conversation you might be tempted to avoid. But your children are bombarded with confusing – and often inaccurate and damaging — messaging about their bodies, so it’s important for you to talk honestly.
Look for opportunities to discuss healthy bodies, varying body shapes and eating habits in age-appropriate and positive ways. Some tips to help your teen form a positive body image include:
● Boost their confidence. Talk less about your teen’s appearance and more about their strengths, abilities and achievements.
● Discuss what they hear and see. Encourage your teen to be skeptical about what they see online and on television when it comes to the “perfect” body image. Help them understand that influencers, the beauty industry and celebrities often use everything from computer software to cosmetic surgery to adjust their appearance.
● Educate your child about body changes, particularly those that take place during puberty and throughout the course of their lifetime. Discuss these changes in an accepting way.
● Encourage healthy friendships. Accepting and supportive friends and family members can be a wonderful influence.
● Listen to your teen. The key to any good conversation is listening. Ask your teen open-ended questions while you watch videos or television together to get an idea of what thoughts they have about the images they’re seeing, and how it makes them feel.
● Set a positive example. Make healthy eating and exercise a family affair. Start exercising together; eat healthy, nutritious foods as a family; and avoid saying negative things about your own body and the bodies of others.
What To Do When Your Teen Doesn’t Love Their Body
Even teens in supportive, loving families can have a negative body image. If your teen is struggling with body image issues that are affecting their eating habits, self-esteem or mood, consider talking to their pediatrician.
Additional support can give both you and your teen the tools needed to help them feel good about their body and counter any negative messaging they’re hearing around them.