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Helping Your Teen Develop A Healthy Self-Image

The teenage years are a tumultuous and confusing time full of physical and psychological changes. Teens may feel a wide range of new and strong emotions as they start growing into their adult bodies and personalities, and virtually every teenager will experience some type of self-image issue at some point. Parents should know how to help their teens develop positive body images. Modern teens face countless media influences and have greater access to digital media and technology than any previous generation, potentially exposing them to influences that may negatively impact their development into adulthood.

Coming To Terms With Oneself

The teenage years are when most people begin to cultivate their adult identities. Teens start developing more solid interpretations of their worlds and begin developing opinions of their own about various personal and social issues. Puberty and the years following this transitional period are especially confusing. Everyone’s body is different, and many teens may feel ashamed of their bodies or jealous of others due to society’s expectations when it comes to attractiveness and physical health.

Influences On Body Image

Although progressive attitudes toward media representations of beauty have somewhat altered the marketing landscape, movies, TV, and advertisements still seem to create unrealistic beauty standards, and these influences can significantly impact a teenager’s self-image. Some teens may struggle with weight gain or acne during puberty, common issues that many people experience, but failing to address these issues in healthy and constructive ways can cause serious self-image problems later in life.

Teens tend to be hyper-conscious about their bodies, often fretting over minor changes as they age. They also face a nearly constant bombardment of depictions of idealized body types that may deteriorate their self-esteem and make them feel compelled to pursue unrealistic, digitally altered body types. This can lead to eating disorders, psychological distress, social complications, and possibly even dangerous medical conditions and substance abuse.

Both teen boys and girls experience a barrage of unhealthy influences from the media. Young men see depictions of perfectly sculpted, muscular men with chiseled features and young women compare themselves to often digitally altered depictions of women on magazine covers with flawless, traditionally beautiful features. These teens will often feel dissatisfied about themselves when they cannot match these unrealistic depictions, and parents have a duty to help them realize that ideals are not grounded in reality and help their kids learn to be comfortable in their own skin.

While young men are generally less likely to talk about their self-image issues than women, this does not mean they experience these issues less often or less acutely. Young men often develop eating disorders and are statistically more likely to engage in substance abuse at younger ages than their female peers.

Overcoming Unrealistic Expectations

Communication is crucial in helping teens overcome unrealistic expectations. While there is nothing wrong with a teen attempting to improve his or her self-image through healthy means such as proper diet and regular exercise, unrealistic expectations can easily cause very negative effects, such as indirectly encouraging a teen to engage in substance abuse or other destructive behaviors in response to their self-image issues.

Some teens may feel reluctant to talk about these issues, and some parents may not even realize their children are struggling with self-image problems until physical effects start to manifest. Parents can help their teens overcome self-image issues in various ways.

Be A Good Role Model

It may feel impossible to have a conversation with your teen sometimes, but whether you realize it or not, your teen is watching and listening, and you have a profound effect on how he or she perceives the world. Set a good example by leading a healthy lifestyle and talking openly about the self-image issues you struggled with as a teen or the issues you still consider challenging.

Be Receptive, Not Pushy

You cannot get blood from a stone, and you cannot force your teen into an uncomfortable conversation he or she isn’t ready to have. Pay close attention for clues that your teen is bothered by something and offer to help in a constructive, nonconfrontational way. If a teen feels attacked or criticized, this may only worsen his or her self-image problem.

Be Kind To Yourself

If your teen hears you constantly complaining about aging, thinning hair, gaining weight, or your looks diminishing, he or she will compartmentalize these notions and they will undoubtedly influence his or her interpretations of what it means to have a healthy self-image.

Be Kind To Your Teen

Your teen may struggle with weight gain or other physical changes, and addressing these issues in the wrong way can be destructive. Instead of confronting your teen about a potentially sensitive topic, start complimenting him or her about other aspects of his or her self-image. These small positive boosts have a tremendous impact on your teen’s overall self-esteem.

Put Media In Perspective

Make sure your teen knows that the beautiful people he or she sees on television, in movies, and in magazines are wealthy, with access to plastic surgeons, professional dieticians, and personal trainers. They are not a realistic interpretation of the average person. Have conversations about how your teen views the media and gently correct misinterpretations about physical beauty.

Make Healthy Living A Family Affair

Encouraging healthy habits early in life will benefit your teen for his or her whole life. When you uphold healthy living standards and refrain from keeping too much junk food in the house you inherently encourage your teen to make better personal health choices later in life.

Developing A Healthier Self-Image

These are just a few ways parents can help their teens cultivate healthier self-images. Every person is different and faces unique personal challenges as they go through adolescence, and parents may sometimes feel helpless when it comes to the choices their kids make. However, with a slight change in perspective and a commitment to maintaining open communication, parents can be incredibly influential in very positive ways.

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