Positive Body Image for Teen Girls and Boys

CBR003158Your teen’s body image is not the shape of their body, but rather, how they VIEW the shape of their body. How a teen perceives the way they look has a powerful influence on their life and self-esteem. Adolescence is a stage in life where teens begin to care a lot about how others view them, and they may become self-conscious of every blemish or extra pound. Unfortunately, your child’s peers play a big role in how they look at themselves. Your son may be quite handsome, but because a friend commented on how “scrawny” his body is, he may obsess on that fact and think he doesn’t measure up. Teens are not always kind to each other.

While body image has almost always been considered a “girl issue,” the New York Times reported last month that pediatricians are starting to sound the alarm about boys who take unhealthy measures to try to achieve movie star bodies. “Whether it is long hours in the gym, allowances blown on expensive supplements or even risky experiments with illegal steroids, the price American boys are willing to pay for the perfect body appears to be on the rise. More than 40 percent of boys in middle school and high school said they regularly exercised with the goal of increasing muscle mass. Thirty-eight percent said they used protein supplements, and nearly 6 percent said they had experimented with steroids.” Although it has not been unusual for college-age men to engage in bodybuilding, pediatricians are startled that boys as young as middle-school-age are now trying to build muscle mass. Ironically, their efforts may actually stunt their development if they turn to supplements or steroids. Supplements are not regulated and have not been studied well – many can be dangerous.

If your teen develops a negative body image, they may also suffer from poor self-esteem, depression, yo-yo dieting, eating disorders, and other risky teen behaviors. So, it’s important to pay attention to their perception of themselves. As a parent, you have tremendous influence on whether your teen develops a positive self-image, no matter their size or shape. Here are some ways you can help your teen:

Be a Good Role Model. Your teen is closely observing your lifestyle, eating habits, and attitudes about issues like appearance and weight, even if it doesn’t seem like it. Do not talk negatively about your own body and do not make comparisons about yourself or your child to anyone else. Develop a healthy weight by eating a well-balanced, nutritious, healthy diet. Instead of flopping down on the couch to watch TV after dinner, invite your child to play Frisbee, walk around the mall, work in the garden, or go in-line skating so you are modeling an active lifestyle.

Be Positive. Refrain from critical and judgmental words about your teen’s appearance, even if you believe they have a problem. Instead, find something you love about your teen – her hair or his eyes, for example – and compliment your child.

Educate your Teen about Media. Teach your children to view images in magazines, on screen, and on the web with skepticism by explaining airbrushing, photo manipulation, stylists, personal trainers, cosmetic surgery, and other tricks that make up the beauty industry and celebrity culture.

Emphasize Other Qualities over Appearance. Compliment your teen’s actions and emphasize that what they do is more important than how they look. Show an interest in his or her passions and pursuits.

Set the Family Up for Success. Make healthy behaviors part of your family dynamic. Remove the chips and cookies from the pantry. Avoid fast food. Take walks together.

Think Your Way to Success. Suggest that your teen give himself three compliments every day to build up his self-esteem, or whenever she realizes she is saying negative comments about herself, to stop and replace that thought with a more positive thought. Remind your child that confidence is what makes a person attractive.

Final thoughts…

Sometimes low self-esteem and body image problems are too much to handle alone. A few teens may become depressed, lose interest in activities or friends, develop an eating disorder, try to hurt themselves, or resort to alcohol or drug abuse. It is important to seek professional help if your teen seems to be having trouble with his or her body image or self-esteem or if you notice dramatic changes in your teen’s weight or eating habits.

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