Raising a child who is comfortable in her own body is a challenging task in our culture. From the time they begin to watch television and movies, young girls are bombarded with stories of being a princess saved by a prince in order to live happily ever after. Boys are depicted as action heroes and girls are passive. Girls as young as 5 or 6 have manicure,spa or dress up birthday parties, reinforcing the idea that appearance and glamour are the important values. Young girls aren’t always aware that pictures in the media have been photo shopped and that the standard of beauty in the media is often an unhealthy one. Girls internalize the image of thinness and are challenged emotionally when their bodies begin to develop into mature young women. Girls also are taught to be polite and not make waves. This can become problematic for them when as teens; they need to deal with boys and sex. Teen girls will often admit to having sex with a boy because they “didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
Adults can help girls develop greater self-confidence and a positive body image by being healthy role models. Teens are hypersensitive to what their peers are saying and doing but what the important adults in her life say is equally important even if the teen appears not to be listening. Here are 5 ways to help a teen develop a positive body image.
- Teach media literacy. Talk about the images that appear in the magazines your teen reads. Watch television with her and teach her to interpret, filter and decode the messages she is presented with.
- Avoid obsessing about food, diet and your own body image in front of teens. Don’t allow members of the family to tease one another about food or appearance.
- Respect borders. Don’t share clothes with a teen daughter and don’t compete to be prettier or thinner.
- Encourage creativity in the place of an emphasis on clothes and looks. Sports, dance, music, and art will teach a girl to express herself in ways not related to appearance. Make your compliments about what she has done and who she is, not what she looks like.
- If a teen is exhibiting disordered eating, depression or self-destructive behavior, provide counseling as a safe haven for her to resolve body image issues.