Teenage Body Image
Surprisingly, children as young as 3 years old may develop body image issues. Inevitably, how and what you think of your body begins early on and this is where teenage body image issues can stem from.
Through the teen years and with a changing body, a person’s body image may drastically change. They may become self-conscious and more aware of their body and every small blemish or pound. Teens further become hyper-aware of the media and what they portray as the “ideal” body.
However, as a parent, you have more of an impact than you think. You can guide your teen towards a healthy body image and help positively influence their mental health. Let’s take a closer look.
What Is Body Image?
Simply put, body image is what you feel or think when it comes to your body. Having a positive body image means being comfortable in your own skin and accepting how you look. On the other hand, negative body image often involves wanting to alter the way you look, whether that be your shape or size, or another characteristic. Body image is also not a stagnant entity. It can change frequently and drastically throughout one’s lifetime.
Body Image and Mental Health
A negative body image can lead to low self-esteem, as well as eating disorders and depression. Contrary to popular belief, a negative body image does not only impact girls. Boys may also experience negative body image, leading to mental health struggles.
Interestingly, boys are more likely to experience depression relating to body image than girls. They may believe they are not tall enough or not muscular enough. Meanwhile, girls frequently struggle with eating disorders associated with a negative body image. These types of disorders include anorexia, where a person tries to limit their food intake, or bulimia, where a person purges after eating. These mental health issues can become very serious if not addressed. They can lead to serious physical health issues and even death.
How Can You Help Your Teen Develop a Positive Body Image?
Luckily, as a parent, you can help your child develop a positive body image. You do not need to wait until they bring it up either - in fact, you should not. Starting the conversation early on with your teen can help foster positivity and acceptance when it comes to their body.
As with most things, leading by example counts for a lot. The way you talk about your own body image will significantly impact the way your teen talks about or thinks about their own body. There are a few tips on how you can impact your child and help them build confidence through body positivity.
Talk About Food and Exercise in Healthy Ways
Definitely avoid discussing diets. Instead, talk about eating healthy and nutritious foods that fuel and nourish the body. Also, discuss exercise as a way to get stronger and stay healthy. Limit and avoid talking about it as a method to lose weight.
Believe it or not, this also includes avoiding using the old tactic “no one can leave the table until their plate is cleaned”. Instead, teach your children and teen about intuitive eating. Guide them toward eating only until they are full each and every time.
Another helpful tactic is teaching your children about nutrition, vitamins and minerals, and why they are important. This can help them understand food better, as well as develop a better relationship with it.
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Express Positive Self-Talk
Showing confidence when being photographed can help. Again, lead by example and be happy to have the ability to record your life with your children and family. Also, emphasize personality and inner characteristics as opposed to appearance. Bring up how kind or nice a person is, instead of their outward looks. This is all starts with you too. Avoid negative self-talk about your own body. Remember, you want to lead by example!
Talk to Your Teen About Body Image
In addition, if you ever notice any negativity from your teen regarding their body image, do not shy away from the conversation. Ask why they think of themselves that way and listen to their answers. Take the conversation toward a more positive one and always focus on health first.
You can also openly talk about the “ideal” body image and how or why these images are not realistic expectations. Be sure to bring up how many of these images are photoshopped or altered to make them appear more attractive.
Other Things to Consider
If your child does not want to talk about it or seems withdrawn, they may be more comfortable discussing these topics with another trusted adult. Consider discussing counselling with them if you feel they may be developing a negative body image.
If you suspect your teen may be developing a negative body image, there are some signs to watch out for:
- Withdrawing socially
- Openly criticizing their body
- Drastic diet changes
- Taking lots of selfies or looking in the mirror frequently
- Not wanting to try new activities because of how self-conscious they feel
- Lack of energy
Ultimately, your teen’s body image matters. It can drastically impact their self-esteem and their confidence. Yet, a positive body image helps them develop into happy and healthy adults. As their parent, you can act as a role model to reinforce a positive body image as they grow. If you are concerned about your teen and their weight or body image, discuss your options with your doctor or another health professional.