Many teens and adolescents are not satisfied with their bodies. No surprise. With so much emphasis on body size and thinness in the media, along with the growth and physical changes they experiences as they reach puberty, teens and adolescents spend so much time thinking of their bodies, and often, are not happy with them.
Negative body image in this age should not be considered normal. If not addressed, it pushes the teenager to diet (not recommended), and could predispose them to disordered eating.
So what can you do as a parent to prevent (or solve) your adolescent/teenager from having a negative self-image?
I will be using “she” in this post to simplify the writing, but beware that–although less common–boys suffer from negative self-image too.
Have a Positive Body Image Yourself
It has to start with you. You can’t ask your child to think in a way when you can’t do it yourself. They notice your actions. If they see you stare at yourself in the mirror with disappointment, frustration, or anger, they will think it’s normal and acceptable. How do you have a positive image? Check my post from Thursday on the Six Ways to Feel Better About Your Body.
Be Careful with Praise
Praise your child, but avoid praise that is related to food and body image. For example, avoid saying “good girl” when she eats something healthy or skips something that is not. That teaches them pleasing you and getting your attention can be done through food, and that they are “good” or “bad” people depending on what they eat. Instead, say something like, “that doughnut you skipped wasn’t going to nourish your body,” or “the orange you ate gave your body a boost of vitamin C.” The same thing goes for praising physical traits, such as body size. Instead, praise their behavior, academic or other successes, and anything they improve at and not related to appearance.
Show them Love
Show your kids that you love them, regardless of their body size or appearance. Be careful of comments you make about other kids. Don’t use comparison as a strategy to motivate your child to do something.
Support, don’t Criticize
This can be a tricky one. If your child is overweight or eating more unhealthful foods than they need to, as a parent, it’s your duty to address this issue. But the way you deliver your message is important. Your words, tone, and body language can portray you as supportive parent or make you sound like a critical one. And no body likes critical parents! Try to address the issue while showing love and caring. And don’t just point out that they are eating too many desserts. You have to support them by not bringing the desserts home and offering fruits instead. The same goes for exercise. You can’t criticize them for spending too much time in front of the TV when you don’t make resources to exercise available.
Comment on Non-Looks Traits
We all do it. “Have you seen how hot so and so celebrity looks?” Or, “I love xxx hair, or xxx body.” While such comments seem harmless, say them around a teenager who’s not happy about her body, and they won’t be harmless anymore. It’s one of the unfortunate things in our culture that social acceptance depends on good looks and leanness. This may not be so common in the adult world where acceptance and self-esteem can stem from education or work accomplishments, but in teenagers’ world, looks matter more. When making comments about others, celebrities or not, shift the focus from looks to actions. Say, “wow, this xxx celebrity is doing so much charity work.”
Follow a Healthy Lifestyle
Well, this one is common sense but will still say it. It’s really all about health. Follow a healthy lifestyle at home as a family and avoid dieting and restrictive eating. Enjoy a variety of healthful foods, cook together, eat together, go to a farmers market, exercise together, or do any other activity that gets you ALL, the whole family, to be more active and more nutritious-foods eaters.