Being the parent of a teenager comes with a whole new set of joys and challenges.
You love that they’re more independent and letting their personalities shine.
But as a parent, you can’t help but worry every once in a while. They have new interests, new friends and unfortunately, new insecurities.
This can be especially true when it comes to body image.
53% of American girls report being dissatisfied with their bodies. By age 17, that amount grows to 78%.
Boys are certainly not immune to body image issues, either. Studies show that 1 in 4 eating disorders occur in boys.
Boys can experience body anxiety, and are prone to take longer to get treatment due to shame around int.
As parents, we want our children to see their true value, inside and out. It’s painful to see them struggle with body image as they go through teen-hood and beyond.
To help our teens thrive and have the confidence that they deserve, it’s important to first educate ourselves, then show our support in various nonjudgmental ways.
Here’s the 101 on causes and signs of body anxiety, and what you can do (and avoid) to help rebuild your teen’s confidence.
Causes of Body Anxiety
You may be wondering where your teen’s body anxiety is suddenly coming from. Body image anxiety can be caused by multiple factors:
- Highly appearance-focused friends and family
- Comments on their weight or appearance
- The tendency toward perfectionism
- Comparison via media and social media
Signs of Body Anxiety
If you notice any of these signs occurring with your teen, it could be a sign that they’re experiencing body anxiety issues:
- Making body comparisons to peers or celebrities
- Direct statements criticizing their looks
- Opting out of activities and outings due to physical insecurities
- Analyzing their body and looks frequently (checking mirrors, evaluating selfies, etc.)
- Expressing shame or guilt around eating
- Comments on the bodies of others
The Do’s and Dont’s For Helping Your Child With Body Anxiety
Even though they may not like to admit it, teens are still highly influenced by us at parents. That’s why building their confidence and self-love starts at home.
Keep these do’s and dont’s in mind to help your teen feel better about themselves and who they are, inside and out.
Don’t: Talk Negatively About Your Own Body
You probably already started learning the importance of leading by example the first time your toddler repeated a cuss word.
Now that they’re teens, the same sentiment remains.
Telling your child to care for their themselves while not doing the same for ourselves sends mixed messages that can hurt the cause more than help.
Do: Demonstrate Self Love
It’s tough to teach optimism without starting within.
Demonstrate what self-love looks like by eliminating your comments about diet or body shame, and instead emphasize your desire to be healthy and happy.
Next time you’re headed to a workout, instead of saying “Say good bye to these love handles!” Try: “Time to get those endorphins going!”
You’ll be surprised by the amount a few adjustments in your words can do to shift your thoughts — as well as your teen’s.
Show your teens that you’re comfortable in your body and that they can be, too
You can also practice this by changing your language around food.
Avoid talking about certain foods in a way that inspires guilt. Instead of saying, “that cupcake will go straight to my butt,” try “I may eat a bit more protein first, sugar can really put a lag in my day.”
Just like with exercise, emphasize that your goal is not focus on appearance, but to stay healthy and thriving.
Learn about different foods together, and emphasize how eating healthy can help things besides weight like improving focus or giving them a strong heart and lungs for sports.
And don’t be afraid to indulge in treats every once in a while — with nothing but positive dialogue to accompany the treat!
Don’t: Talk Negatively About the Appearance of Others
Chances are, you knew a bully or 2 as a teen. Unfortunately, your child probably knows a couple as well — not just in person, but online as well.
We live in the internet age, and our teens are being inundated with comments. Everyone has the freedom to express their opinion of each other in public as often as they want.
Oftentimes, this can make for a culture of online bullying, and body size is a hot topic.
By commenting on people’s weight and appearance — whether it be a celebrity you’d never meet or your sister — you’re validating statements from bullies that your teens may be encountering.
It sends the message that someone’s value is based on their weight or appearance — including your child’s.
Do: Discuss Societal Standards With Them
Next time your child makes a comment about the appearance of someone, take the opportunity to pause for a loving discussion to uncover the root beneath the comment.
Chat about how they define beauty, and how the media defines it.
Check out some TV shows and magazine ads to get a better idea of society’s expectations of bodies, and compare it to the various shapes and sizes that we see in reality.
Review why people are portrayed as they are in marketing, and how it may benefit the business.
Guide them to resources for more body-positive media. You can get a head start by researching some body-positive Instagram influencers.
Don’t: Make Comments On Their Appearance
Teens are like sponges. That means they can take small comments you may overlook to heart.
Along with that, their bodies are changing in overwhelming ways that can make them hyper-aware of their appearance — with or without comments.
Unless you’re noticing rapid weight gain or loss, or a change that’s alarming and could seriously threaten their health, avoid commenting on it.
That means try not to comment on your teen losing or gaining a couple pounds, or when a zit or two pops out, or when their hair is looking a bit dry.
On the flip side, avoid only complimenting your teen on appearance-based aspects. Sure, your daughter looked beautiful on prom night, and you just had to say something. Who wouldn’t!
Telling your son or daughter when they look nice is a great way to boost their self-esteem. But it’s important to strive for balance.
Do: Go Beyond Surface Level Compliments
Studies show that when children are complimented on their efforts instead of the outcome, they’re more open to taking on challenges, become better at problem solving, and more likely to rely on hard work instead of chance to reach their goals.
Make sure you go out of your way to compliment your child on their creativity, humor, intelligence, kindness, and unique quirks that makes them the amazing person that they are.
Even when they’re struggling with something, either at school, sports or with their social life, there’s always something to be said for trying. And your words of encouragement mean more to them then your teen will ever admit!
Don’t: Suggest Working Out For Weight Loss
If your child has body anxiety, telling them to work out more may be your first instinct.
This can create a stigma and anxiety around workouts that can be hard for your teen to overcome. They can become obsessive, and consider themselves failures if the weight loss doesn’t come right away.
Do: Emphasize The Fun Of Physical Activity
Show your teen how fun physical activity can be by scheduling family ski trips or bike rides, or enrolling them in physical activities that can help them build confidence like gymnastics or dance.
There are always pressures being put on our young ones to look and act a certain way. But true beauty comes from within. And by demonstrating the importance of health over appearance and focusing on the joys of self-love, you can help your teen realize just how wonderful they really are.
Another great way to ease anxiety and work through stress is by encouraging meditation in your home. Help your teen tap into their own self expressions and self-esteem by teaching them mindfulness »