These days, it seems like a lot of us have insecurities about our bodies that can be intense at times. And it feels pretty terrible. It can be particularly challenging for teens—both guys and girls–who are often struggling to fit in, at the same time that they’re beginning to discover who they are as independent young adults. If you’re a parent of a teen—or an adult who’s otherwise involved in the life of a teen—here are a few ways you can help them establish a positive body image.
1 – Do as you say.
It’s one thing to tell young people to love their bodies—but if they’re watching the adults in their lives constantly criticize their own appearances, they’ll follow suit. Don’t beat yourself up in front of the teens in your life. Hold off on saying how fat those pants make your look, or how you’re having a horrible hair day. As much as possible, let the young people in your life see you respecting your body and loving yourself.
2 – Encourage confidence-building activities.
We often develop body image concerns when we feel we need to change our appearances in order to make others like or accept us. Such feelings can be particularly acute among teens. Whether it’s sports, academics, or creative outlets, encourage them to take part in activities that help them see they have a wide range strengths and talents, and that there’s plenty for their peers to like about them that has nothing to do with their looks.
3 – Start young.
This is especially true for parents. Don’t wait until they’re teens to start helping them build their self-esteem. Begin encouraging them when they’re children. Though it’s tempting to remark on how pretty or cute a young girl or boy is, try not to always fall back on that behavior. There’s nothing wrong with complimenting your child’s looks, as well as you also say and do things to reinforce their other strengths. Remind your children how smart and creative they are, as well. Give them a solid foundation so that by the time they’re facing the often intense peer pressure of high school, they won’t be caught off guard.
4 – Talk to them.
Teens are not always inclined to bare their souls to their parents. Take the initiative. Start conversations with them about media portrayals of female beauty or male masculinity, for example. Level with them and let them know that you get it. Let them know their concerns are valid and understandable.
5 – Listen, too.
As much as they need to be able to talk to you, sometimes the best thing you can do is hear them out and be empathetic. If someone at school made a snarky comment about their looks, they likely don’t need you to solve their problem. Instead, they need you to make them feel heard, loved, and supported. Tell them you know how they’re feeling, you understand how difficult it is, and you’ve been there yourself.
6 – Distinguish between being healthy and being “attractive.”
Culturally, we often conflate being slender (for women) or muscular (for men) with being healthy. But of course, those kinds of physiques can be achieved as a result of lifestyles that are anything but. One of the results of this is that it’s easy to downplay the harmful effects of chronic dieting and punishing workouts. Let the teens in your life see you leading a healthy lifestyle because you respect your body and want to take care of it—not because you’re trying to drop another dress size.
Encourage the teens in your life to take breaks from Facebook and Instagram. While social media has a lot of great things to offer, selfie culture can make us all feel like we’ve got to be camera-ready all the time. That’s a lot of pressure! Remind your teens that they don’t need to document everything they do—it’s okay to hang out in old jeans and a t-shirt once in a while.
Helping the teens in your life establish a deep sense of self-worth that is not dependent upon whether they believe others perceive them as physically attractive will help them hugely as they move into adulthood. It will allow them to accept and embrace themselves and build more authentic and fulfilling lives.
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