Teen body image
As puberty begins, preteens and teens become more aware of their body image, often to the point of feeling very self-conscious. At the same time, their sexual identity is developing and they become increasingly concerned about being attractive to others.
To complicate things further, young people develop at different rates, leading to big differences for a few years between peers. Along the way, teens may be self-conscious about acne, their voice changing, their weight, and any number of other changes. And they may be influenced by idealized and unattainable images of appearance and sexuality from TV, movies, magazines, and other popular culture.
Tips for you as a parent to help your teen develop a positive and healthy body image:
- Model a healthy body image for your children. Your own healthy eating and exercise habits can be a strong influence. Avoid fretting out loud about your own dieting efforts, weight gain, and other aspects of your appearance. Model self-acceptance and positive steps to feel and look your best.
- Avoid making comparisons between people’s appearance, or between your child’s appearance and others. Demonstrate respectful acceptance of all body shapes and sizes.
- Keep healthy snacks at home and plan opportunities for exercise, such as sports and family games and outings.
- Expect good hygiene, but otherwise avoid criticizing your child’s dress and grooming. Experimenting with different fads and looks is part of adolescence.
- On the other hand, don’t hold back on compliments about your child’s appearance.
- Give your teen the opportunity to get plenty of sleep.
In some cases, a severely distorted body image can become an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Keep an eye out for behaviors including:
- Skipping meals or eating tiny portions
- Developing rules about food or highly ritualized eating habits
- Rapid or erratic weight loss
- Wearing extremely oversized clothing
- Eating secretly, or hiding food
- Picking at food, or pretending to eat in public
- Continually talking about being fat
- Spending time in the bathroom after meals
- Using diet pills, or illegal drugs or alcohol
- Coming up with excuses not to eat
- Excessive or compulsive exercising
- Becoming withdrawn and socially isolated
- Binge eating
If you think your child may have an eating disorder, seek help from a healthcare provider.