In Physical & Mental Health

Fostering Healthy Body Image and Self-Esteem in Teenagers

Body image issues tend to afflict most teenagers as they’re growing up. A kid or teenager, especially as they hit puberty, goes through a lot of bodily changes. They also become more self-aware of their own bodies and those of others. This inevitably leads to comparisons with others in which a teenager may not be happy with what they have. They may wish they were skinnier, taller, or had different features. It’s important for kids and teens to foster a healthy self-image as they grow up. This occurs through good self-esteem. 

The Necessity of Healthy Self-Esteem

Kids Health and Teens Health notes that self-esteem allows a person to feel good about themselves for more than just their looks. They also realize their value as a person, which improves how they feel about themselves overall.

A healthy self-esteem allows a person to make proper choices in life. According to Teens Health, those that feel good about themselves tend to feel as though they have a hold on their own lives. They understand themselves, what they like and don’t like, and what they can and cannot tolerate in others. This means that they associate with people that make them feel good rather than hang around those who are bad for their sense of self.

A teen with good self-esteem also won’t be too negatively affected by their changing body as they grow up and mature. Instead, they are more likely to feel positive about their bodies. They know that their self-esteem relates to how they feel about their bodies but not entirely.

Fostering Self-Esteem

As teenagers grow older, they are influenced by many factors that all can determine how good (or not) they feel about themselves. As a parent, it’s important to recognize these various sources of self-esteem bolsters or drainers to regulate their impact on your child.

Family: Firstly, parents themselves and other family members can help foster self-esteem. Parents or siblings that focus excessively on weight or appearance are likely to make the teen feel as though they must look a certain way in order to measure up. If they cannot achieve such an appearance, their self-esteem will suffer. In order to promote a healthy self-esteem in your teen, don’t make negative comments on their looks.

School: The same situation can occur in school. Particularly, if your teen is a member of a sports team, there may be an emphasis on weight. Certain extracurricular activities like a dance class or play may also put an unnecessary focus on looks. A parent should hopefully have a good enough relationship with their teen that they feel that they can talk to you about such a situation.

Puberty: Puberty is an unavoidable part of life, and, as mentioned above, one in which teens start to become self-aware and compare themselves to others. A parent should emphasize that each teen is different and valuable for who they are.

Media: The media plays a big role in how many people view themselves, not just teenagers alone. While negative media influence can affect a person into adulthood, that makes it all the more important for a parent to teach their teen how to feel good about themselves sooner rather than later. Teach your teen that many portrayals of people in magazines and online can be edited and airbrushed and that these portrayals are not reality.

Creating Self-Esteem and a Healthy Body Image that Lasts

A parent can help teach their teen how to feel good about themselves in a way that they can utilize for years. First, it helps to listen to your teen if they tell you that they want to change parts of themselves. Don’t interrupt or criticize your child at this point. However, if what they want to change about themselves is unrealistic or impossible, you should tell them so. If they want to lose or gain weight though or change their hair or the way they dress, these are all attainable goals that you can help with.

You should also teach your teen about negative self-talk. This occurs when the teen thinks badly of themselves and has negative dialogue swirling around in their head. Teach your teen to replace this negative self-talk with acceptance.

You should also teach your child about accepting their body as it is. While it’s always great to want to make changes and improvements, remember to tell your teen that the portrayals that they see in the media aren’t realistic, and that the models in the magazines don’t even look like that themselves. Encourage your teen to understand that they are a good person and acceptable just the way they are no matter what their body looks like.

Acknowledging Damaged Self-Esteem

However, sometimes the efforts that a parent makes still don’t necessarily prevent a teen from having bad self-esteem. In some cases, a teenager may develop an eating disorder, in which they starve themselves, binge eat and then vomit their food consumption, or diet excessively. The most common types of eating disorders that a teen may develop according to the Palo Alto Medical Foundation are as follows:

  • Anorexia With this condition, the sufferer starves themselves in order to obtain an ideal of thinness; according to PAMF, about one percent of teenagers and adolescents will develop anorexia, and up to 20 percent will die.
  • Bulimia Anorexia can give way to bulimia, with about 50 percent developing this condition in which a teen binge eats and then vomits.
  • Excessive Dieting – A teen trying to control their weight may attempt to diet, but this can become excessive and unhealthy.

In almost all cases of starvation, the heart can shut down and death becomes a possibility. Your teen may also self-harm or have suicidal thoughts. If you sense that your teen may be suicidal, it’s important to get help immediately.

Sometimes a teen can even experience what’s called body dysmorphic disorder or BDD. Teens Health defines BDD as a teenager or other person feeling so upset about their looks and what they believe are flaws that they are preoccupied with it to the point of obsession. Others may not even notice this flaw, whether it’s real or perceived. As a result of BDD, the teen may feel that they should hide away from others in order to avoid being viewed as ugly. Your teen may also engage in compulsions such as trying to fix or mask the flaw.

Those that have BDD are more likely to possibly have anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD, or depression. Uneven serotonin levels could cause any of these conditions; such issues with serotonin can also be hereditary. Therefore, you should check you and your spouse’s family histories to see if this could be a cause.

Repairing Damaged Self-Esteem

If you believe that your teen has issues with damaged self-esteem and if they are exhibiting any of the symptoms above such as an eating disorder, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts, the two of you need to work together to get help. As a parent, you should also watch if your teen becomes depressed, Teens Health notes. If your teen is depressed, they may become uncommunicative and exhibit a lack of interest in their favorite hobbies. They may become antisocial as well. At this point, the dangers of them becoming mixed up in drugs or alcohol to self-medicate and numb the feelings increase.

In most cases, a teenager suffering from BDD or similar conditions like depression or OCD should work with a therapist, psychiatrist, or someone else trained in the realm of mental health. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, according to Teens Health, is a common treatment option that reduces compulsions and regulates how the teenager feels about their body. Although not a quick fix, cognitive-behavioral therapy can eventually help a teen find a good balance with their perceived flaws and having a healthy self-esteem.

Encourage your teen to talk to you if they ever feel depressed, if they self-harm, if they are experiencing an eating disorder, if they may have BDD, and especially if they feel suicidal. You two can talk with a school counselor if their bad self-esteem is mild enough. However, in more severe cases, you and your teen should consider a therapist to help them overcome their issues. The sooner a teen fosters healthy self-esteem, the happier and more fulfilling that their lives will become.

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