It's back to school time and many kids are always concerned about how their peers will judge them.
The process of going through puberty is a rite of passage for every human on the planet, and is a concrete sign of your child’s physical maturation. Unfortunately, it’s also a time of dashed self-esteem and negative body image in many kids, especially teen and tween girls. Fostering a strong, positive sense of self-worth and a good body image may seem like a delicate balancing act, but there are steps you can take to help your teenager mature into a poised, confident and self-assured young adult.
The foundation for a strong, positive body image in your teenager begins when she’s a child. Before the teenage years arrive, bringing with them the nagging fears and insecurities of puberty, start talking to your little one about different body types, acceptance and the appreciation of a healthy body. Make a point of discussing the unrealistic images she absorbs from the media and the collective societal scrutiny of celebrities and public figures. The ideas your child has about body image when she reaches her teen years will be shaped by what she’s already learned, so don’t wait until she’s a pre-teen to start this essential conversation.
Watch Your Own Speech
More than almost anything else, your children will learn how to interact with the world and how to view it by observing you. If they hear you constantly speaking ill of your shape or bemoaning a few extra pounds, they will absorb those insecurities and begin to reflect them. Make a point of speaking positively about your body, even when you feel insecure. Not only will it help you model a positive body image for your kids and teenagers, it will also boost your own sense of self-worth by cutting out negative, critical thinking.
Listen When She Talks About Her Body
When it seems like you and your teen are speaking a completely different language, figuring out how she feels and the standing of her self-confidence can seem like an insurmountable task. Teens naturally become a bit more withdrawn and reticent in their quest for independence, but you may not be as cut off from your teen as you think. Make a point of listening to her when she speaks, especially about herself. If she makes self-deprecating comments about her body, even in the form of a joke, you’ll know that it’s time to have a serious conversation about self-esteem and body image.
Encourage Her to Get Involved
Teenagers that are involved in their community or peer group through sports, clubs and other activities, have something to focus on other than their changing body and the way they feel about themselves. Organized sports, athletic programs and social or academic clubs can have a very real impact on a teenager’s self-esteem, so make a point of encouraging her to get involved with things that she’s interested in and pursue her hobbies in an active, engaging way.
Emphasize Physical Activity for Fun
As childhood obesity rates skyrocket and bring along with them a host of attendant health problems, encouraging kids to engage in active play and sports programs seems like a natural solution. Sedentary activities can increase a kid’s likelihood of gaining an unhealthy amount of weight, but focusing on physical activity for the sake of adhering to the narrow definition of beauty can lead to very real problems as your kids become teenagers as well. Rather than emphasizing the importance of exercise as a method of weight loss, make a point of praising the fun and exciting attributes of getting up, out and moving.
Help Kids Form Healthy Relationships With Food
Using food as a reward or a punishment, insisting that they clean their plates or withholding food can all contribute to unhealthy, skewed attitudes and a troubled relationship with food. Allow your child to eat when she’s hungry and stop when she’s full, and avoid treating food as something inherently bad or unfailingly positive. Foster an environment in which food is viewed as fuel, not a reward or a punishment.
Helping your teen to establish and maintain a positive body image doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a lifelong process that begins when she’s a young child and will continue well into her young adulthood. Realizing that there will be peaks and valleys in your child’s view of her body is important, as is helping her to realize that unrealistic standards are not only unattainable, but also unhealthy and dangerous.
Be an educated parent, you will have healthier teens.