Teaching Teens to Love Themselves From the Inside Out

girl-1848477_960_720Teens, and especially teenage girls, often suffer with body image issues brought on by multitude of factors. According to the Mayo Clinic, these can include puberty-induced weight gain and media portrayal of the ideal female body.

A healthy body image is vital for overall physical and mental health and development. As a parent, you will play an important role in helping your child learn to love themselves and to be comfortable in their body. It starts with loving yourself. After all, your children will learn their behaviors from you, and if you constantly express dissatisfaction with your own body, how are they to learn to love theirs?

Talking about body image  

While it may be uncomfortable, you must realize that, as your teen is developing physically, they are also becoming more aware of their own sexuality. This is where most body image issues begin. Talk to your children about the changes that will happen as they exit childhood and begin to experience puberty. Weight gain is a normal part of this process. It is not uncommon, however, for young children to display signs of having a negative body image. This is especially true of kids who display characteristics of self-criticism and perfectionism.

Social media messages  

Media, especially social media, is full of other people’s opinions on the perfect body. And since teenagers are spending more and more time in front of the screen, they begin to believe that the unrealistically thin Instagram model they follow exhibits the only possible traits associated with beauty. When social media impacts a child’s body image, it may be time to unplug. Monitor your child’s Internet usage and, if possible, limit her exposure to those platforms that make her question her physique.

Boys have body image issues, too  

The Atlantic recently featured an editorial on body image issues in boys. Don’t overlook your son and his struggles with self-esteem. Unlike girls, boys tend to focus on gaining weight, specifically muscle mass. Another body image issue for young men is the constant struggle to display masculinity.

The dark side of the quest for perfection  

Body image issues can trigger a host of other problems for teenagers. These include depression and social anxiety and may turn in to Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), a mental health condition characterized by distress over a particular aspect of the body. Tara Well, Ph.D. goes into greater detail on BDD in this Psychology Today post. Concerns over body image can also trigger eating disorders. There are many different types of eating disorder. The most common are anorexia and bulimia. Warning signs of these include weight fluctuations, extreme weight loss and avoiding social situations that revolve around food. If you suspect an eating disorder, pay close attention to your teen’s behavior. If he or she disappears or regularly visits the bathroom after eating, this could be a sign of purging (intentional vomiting in an effort reduce the amount of calories consumed).

If you suspect an eating disorder it’s imperative to get help immediately. Unhealthy eating habits can cause cardiovascular issues, slowed digestion, constipation, and neurological disorders. The National Eating Disorder Association also reports that eating disorders can wreak havoc on the body’s endocrine system, resulting in lowered levels of vital hormones such as testosterone, estrogen and those that control the thyroid.

Embracing diversity  

Finally, your children should be taught to embrace diversity. Remind them that the world is comprised of people from all walks of life. People come in all shapes, sizes and personalities. Each individual has their own strengths and weaknesses that shape who they are. Help teens find those things that make them unique.

Body image issues don’t have to ruin your teen’s life. Help him or her learn to love their body, and you’ll set them on a path toward a healthy future.

Author of this article, Tilda Moore, researches and writes about educational resources for openeducators.org. She is passionate about helping parents and teachers in providing kids with the best education possible. She works directly with teachers and other public education groups to ensure they are working toward our vision of constructing a reliable database of verified information