How to Build a Positive Body Image for Your Teen

 

 

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By Daniel Sherwin

 

Through a combination of TV, films, advertising, and the internet, teenagers these days are exposed to even more images of what a perfect body looks like than past generations. Social media, in particular, has been extremely damaging, providing a constant feed of “aspirational” images that can give teens a skewed view of their own bodies. As a parent, what can you do to help your teenager navigate this world and develop a healthy body image?

 

Focus on Health, Not Weight

In an age where 17.4 percent of American children are obese and 2.4 percent are morbidly obese, many parents are naturally worried about their kids gaining weight. Obesity comes with a variety of health issues, and it is normal for parents to want their children to grow up healthy.

However, there are a few factors to consider. To begin with, the measure which is most commonly used to measure obesity, the BMI, can be unreliable, particularly in children. Make sure you get the opinion of a medical professional before making any drastic changes in their diet. Secondly, being too strict with their diet now could lead to backlash later as your teen starts getting access to junk foods.

Teach them about health from a young age, and avoid words like “fat” and “skinny.” Encourage exercise as a family and promote a balanced diet — which includes the occasional treat — within your household. Place the emphasis on how food and exercise can make them feel, not how it can make them look.

 

Value Their Other Qualities

You think your child is beautiful, and you tell them every day. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this, and your kid will probably understand that their parents don’t have a very objective opinion. However, as your kids grow older, make sure you are praising their skills, interests, and personality.

According to the Guardian, this is particularly important for girls. It turns out that repeatedly telling young girls that they are pretty is a very easy way to teach them that the most important thing about them is their appearance.

 

Be a Good Example

Your children will tend to emulate the behaviors they see in their parents. This means that if they see you talking negatively about your own or other people’s bodies, they are more likely to grow up being critical of their appearance.

It’s not just about body talk. You should set a good example by eating how you wish your child was eating, as kids pick up the food habits they see at home. This also goes for the ways in which you try to lose weight. According to the New York Times, children can develop unhealthy ideas about dieting by seeing their parents follow strict or fad diets. With over half of teenage girls and one-third of boys engaging in unhealthy weight control behaviors, it is definitely worth watching whether you are setting a bad example by looking for shortcuts.

 

Learn To Spot An Eating Disorder

Even if you do everything right, your teenager can still develop an unhealthy body image due to factors out of your control, such as bullying at school. Make sure you know the signs to watch out for so you can get them the help they need. These include obvious things like skipping meals, controlling portions, and obsessing over calories, but there are other more subtle cues. Watch out for them leaving the table early, as this could be a sign of purging, and avoiding social situations that involve food.

Being a teenager is hard for most people. You grow increasingly self-conscious, and the pressure to fit in with your peers is overwhelming. The best thing you can do is teach them to value things about themselves other than their appearance and combine this with a good education about healthy lifestyles. The rest may be out of your hands, but you can keep a close eye on their relationship to food and exercise so you can address any unhealthy behaviors.

 

Author

I am a single dad raising two children. At DadSolo.com, my goal is to provide other single dads with information and resources to help them better equip themselves on the journey that is parenthood.