teenage body image
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  • Mental Health
  • 25.10.22

How to help teens maintain a healthy body image

As parents, we want to help our children flourish and give them all the tools they need to take on the world. We want them to be confident and feel good about themselves, and not to look to others to validate their self-worth.

At Grace Private we recognise that during the teenage years it can be particularly challenging for both parents and teenagers, as you both learn how to handle this period of development as your children transition to becoming adults. 

One subject that has been a talking point in the last decade or so is how to help teens maintain a healthy body image. With our lives revolving around social media, it’s become increasingly difficult for them to avoid images of ‘how they should look’ and separate reality from the idealised, air-brushed photos bombarding them on social media.

How a teen perceives the way they look is closely linked to their self-esteem and self-worth, and can affect all aspects of their life. Having an unhealthy body image has been repeatedly shown to lead to issues with depression, anxiety and/or eating disorders. These mental health conditions can then lead to additional concerns such as social withdrawal and isolation, decreased academic performance, physical health problems, substance misuse and in severe cases, self-harm or suicide. 

How do you know if your teenager has a negative body image?

Some of the signed include:

  • always comparing their body to others
  • avoiding activities where their body may be on show
  • negative talk about how they look
  • obsessing about weight or other things about their body
  • covering up their body with baggy clothes.

So what can you do to help your teenager maintain a healthy body image? We spoke with one of Grace’s resident psychologists, Karen White, to get some tips. 

Firstly, it is important to understand that a healthy body image is about accepting and caring for our bodies. It is not about not having a negative body image. It is about noticing and accepting the parts of our body that we like and overall valuing how our body works to help us function in everyday life. When we have a healthy or positive body image we feel comfortable in our skin and this has been linked to many positive outcomes such as increased resilience, life satisfaction, confidence, reduced substance misuse and academic achievement to name just a few.

Use a kind voice and avoid criticism

The way you talk with your teenager can have a huge impact on how they feel about their body image. Responding to their negative comments with reassurance, kind words and thoughts instead of criticism can help to reinforce positive beliefs and help them maintain a healthy body image. 

Empathise with their feelings

Teenagers aren’t always looking for advice when they voice their concerns about their body image. Sometimes they just need someone to listen and to empathise with their feelings. 

It’s ok to admit to your teen that you experience negative feelings about your body image from time to time, and it’s ok to feel the way they do. When the moment is right you can talk to them about why they have these feelings and help them find ways to look at things in a more positive light. 

Embrace changes in their body with positivity

As they reach their teenage years your children’s bodies will undergo many changes. For them this can be equally scary as exciting and can have a huge impact on how they feel about their bodies. 

Positive reinforcement from you during this time can have a huge impact and help them understand that the changes are completely normal. Try not to draw attention to these changes, while letting them know you are there for them when they are ready to talk. 

psychologist Gold Coast

Model positive behaviour

As parents it’s easy to forget how much weight our words hold with our children. There’s an old saying, you can’t not teach your children. They are like sponges and are constantly soaking up your words, behaviour and attitude. 

If you’re constantly criticising your own body, your children will soon come to understand that this is normal behaviour. Modelling positive behaviour and avoiding negative self-talk about your own body can help support your teen to create a healthy body image for themselves. 

Focus on people’s non-appearance based strengths

If you fall into the habit of making appearance a key focus, this attitude will filter through to your teens and shape the way they look at the world. As parents it’s important to value people’s non-appearance based strengths to show your teens their self-worth isn’t reliant on their looks alone. 

Encourage a healthy lifestyle

As your children reach their teenage years they will be making more choices for themselves and have greater control of their lives. Now is the time to reinforce the healthy lifestyle habits you’ve been teaching them throughout their lives and encourage them to make the best choices for their body and mind. 

Reinforce the importance of healthy eating and exercise and help them understand the positive effect it will have on their health and wellbeing. Let them know exercise is more than just staying fit and active, it’s about maintaining a positive mindset and way of life. 

Manage social media use

While managing your teens’ social media use can become more difficult as they get older, it’s important to ensure they are not being consumed by social media and aren’t spending too much time online. 

If they are unhappy about your intervention in their social media use, talk to them and help them understand the pitfalls of spending too much time online and how it can have a negative effect on their life.

Need help? 

Our Grace Private Psychologist Karen White can help you manage the challenges of raising a happy and healthy teenager. 

Book an appointment online or call Grace Private on (07) 5595 7632.

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  • Mental Health