Strengthening Body Image in Adolescents

Body image is a big part of self-esteem for adolescents and adults alike. If your kids don’t like the way their bodies look or feel uncomfortable around others because of the way they look, their self-esteem is naturally going to suffer.

They may feel self-conscious about wearing certain clothes, making friends, or wanting to try new things — all of which can affect not only their short-term lives but also their approach to life in general. Additionally, people who have low-self esteem are more likely to develop mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety, which can cause weight gain. This added weight can further lower self-esteem and lead to even more harmful behaviors such as body dysmorphia or eating disorders.

Now, as a parent, you may wonder what you can do to stop this vicious cycle before it even begins. Realistically, the best way to prevent this cycle is to address the root — body image. In other words, if you can help your child (or children) to create and maintain a strong and positive body image, this cycle is much less likely to happen in the first place.

But how can you do this? After all, you can’t make your kids love or even like their bodies. But, you can provide them with the knowledge, tools, mindset, and environment to help them. Today, we’re going to explore how you can best support your child as they grow and develop their own body image. 

How to Help Adolescents Feel Confident in Their Bodies 

Work on Cultivating a Positive Mindset

Whether you know when it developed or not, the majority of us have a rather negative internal dialogue that follows us into adulthood. This is that voice that hides out in the back of your mind and says things like, “You could never pull off that outfit” or “You can’t have that slice of cake because you had a bagel for breakfast.” Learning to overcome these negative thoughts can be extremely tricky — but it can do wonders for self-esteem and help you learn to love yourself just as you are.

Unfortunately, more often than not, this voice begins to show its not-so-helpful face in the tween and teen years when kids are starting to go through changes. While completely eliminating this voice can seem impossible, even if you catch it early, bringing your attention to it and actively working with your child on redirecting and positively framing their thoughts can be incredibly helpful. Encourage them to think about why they feel these negative thoughts or to question those unhelpful remarks rather than letting them ruin their mood.

Be Open About Your Own Struggles

Many adults struggle with body image issues as well. For many of us, it can be hard to be open about these struggles because we spend so much time thinking that we are the only ones who feel this way or that the people who have the body shape or muscle definition we want couldn’t possibly have anything to be insecure about. 

More often than not, however, those people struggle with insecurities too, and allowing yourself to be open about your insecurities is a great way to show your kids that they can do the same. That they can speak up about what is bothering them, get the reassurance they need, and ask for help when they need it.

Explore Social Media Messaging Together

Societal standards of beauty play a very powerful role in who gets to play which roles in shows or who is the most popular on social media platforms. Typically, this results in a very specific body type and appearance being the “goal” for everyone — even those who may have completely different body types. Then, when someone (especially an adolescent) is unable to reach that goal body, more often than not, they end up feeling like they will never be good enough. This can further lead to mental illnesses, body dysmorphia, and eating disorders that can have lasting effects on not only their health but also their quality of life.

So, encourage your children to take what they see on social media and other consumable media — like TV shows or movies — with a grain of salt. Encourage them to seek out role models of all shapes and sizes — in media and in real life.

Talk to Them About Puberty

Bodies are not stagnant. They are constantly changing and adapting to the inputs they are given — such as food and activity. But, bodies also go through changes that are completely out of our control, as is the case with puberty.

It is critical to talk about the changes your children will go through, including gaining weight, and ensure they know these changes are natural and healthy. Our bodies also go through various periods of change throughout our lives that may result in weight or other body changes as well. So even though those times are far off for adolescents, it is a good idea to bring them up as you talk about puberty. This can help them more effectively grasp that their bodies are always growing and evolving, even after they become adults.

Focus on Health, Not Looks

Keeping the emphasis on health, nutrition, and hard work helps show your kids that their bodies are more than just what they look like. Our bodies do so much each and every day, and reminding adolescents of all of the incredible things they can do when they are healthy can be an excellent way to shift their focus. So, for example, if someone has lost weight recently, rather than commenting on how good they look, compliment them on the dedicated effort and hard work they have put into keeping their body healthy. 

When it comes to exercising and building exercise habits, encourage your kids to seek these opportunities because of what they can gain, not what they can lose. In other words, highlight the benefits of cardiovascular health and strength training for the body (and mind!) rather than focusing on what exercising can do to the number on the scale.

The Key to Cultivating a Strong Body Image

In summary, the best way to strengthen body image in adolescents is to create the right environment. One that encourages the healthy body image you want your kids to have throughout their lives. 

This environment is open and honest. It highlights health and encourages them to value themselves and their bodies — no matter how they look. 

Some ways to create and employ this environment in your children’s lives are:

  • Being open and honest with them about your own struggles and cultivating a more body-positive mindset together
  • Helping them build healthy eating habits with a good balance of nutrient-rich meals and delicious treats
  • Educating them about body changes — like puberty — and establishing that these are natural and our bodies are constantly evolving and changing based on our actions and environments
  • Promoting physical activity to improve strength, health, and resilience
  • Limiting time on social media and/or having more regular discussions about how its messaging impacts us
  • Encouraging healthy friendships and relationships that empower them to feel confident in themselves

When to Seek Support

Some level of worry or concern about your body is natural, especially as an adolescent. But, if you see that your teen is struggling with it — especially if it has begun to impact their normal activities, including seeing friends and wanting to go to social gatherings — you may want to consider seeking support from your child’s primary healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

Introducing additional support can help give your child the tools and strategies they need to address their self-esteem issues and work on cultivating a healthy body image. So, if your child is struggling with an unhealthy body image, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow to get in touch with a professional therapist who can give them the support and guidance they need.

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