Self-esteem and body image issues can be a very difficult part of adolescence and young adulthood. Each generation has its own idea of “perfection” perpetuated through media, peer pressure, and societal prejudices, all have which take strong roots in our thinking.
Any kind of negative imaging in the formative years can lead to teens picking up a distorted view of what constitutes the “right” body image and self-concept.
Understanding Self-Esteem and Body Image
Body image is how one perceives oneself physically. Self-esteem on the other hand takes on a more holistic view of how one values and respects oneself as a person. Body image and self-esteem are closely linked in the sense that they have a spill-over effect on each other.
A positive body image allows you to appreciate your individual qualities and strengths both on the inside and the outside.
When you feel good inside and out, it has a positive influence on other areas of your life – you feel good about your life, the people in it, the work you do, and your accomplishments. Each of these in turn drive you towards a more positive future.
This is what a positive self-esteem constitutes – a qualitative and a quantitative appreciation of oneself.
In this context, consider the following statistics:
- More than 50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys turn to unhealthy eating habits and addictions as a means of controlling their body weight.
- Among middle school and high school boys, more than 40% take to exercise with the primary goal of enhancing muscle mass in order to project a more “perfect” body.
- 61% of girls struggling with low self-esteem issues are more prone to talk about their body negatively.
According to the National Institute of Health, unhealthy eating habits and addictions can lead to both health risks and mental disorders or conditions such as depression. Establishing these habits at a young age can result in a teen who continues presenting with these habits even into their adulthood.
Therefore, it is so important for parents to help their teens and young adults develop a healthy body image and positive self-esteem.
Concrete Steps You Can Take as Parents
Start by trying to understand what your teenager feels about their own body image. The following questions can help you understand what they are thinking;
- What qualities do they like about their body?
- Are they happy with their physical appearance (weight, height, features)?
- Is there a specific celebrity or public personality with a body type they like?
- Is there any part of their body they would want to change or replace?
Additionally, work on your own values about your body and the messages you give to your kids about health and body image:
Give Prominence to Human Values Over Physical Appearance
- Focus on qualities of kindness, helping others, and honesty over physical attributes or appearances.
- Don’t criticize your teen or young adult over their physical appearance; work with them to pick up healthy eating habits, good sleeping habits, and to exercise appropirately.
- Appreciate any efforts they make in this regard.
Lead by Example
- If you have a negative body image or have self-esteem issues, your kids will notice.
- If you tend to obsess over food, appearance, and weight they will pick up on those habits.
- When you speak negatively about others’ appearance, they will feel encouraged to do the same.
Help Your Teen Overcome Negative Perceptions About Their Body
- Talk to your teen about appreciating their body and their physical and emotional strengths.
- You can help highlight a strength to counter any negative feelings they have about a specific body part.
- Impress upon them that even celebrities and public figures must deal with imperfections; the images they see on the Internet, TV, and social media are often airbrushed or manipulated.
- Talk to them about how marvelous the human body is in terms of what it can achieve, and that everyday life is not so much about how one looks, but about what one does.
- Talk to them about people who have overcome physical, emotional, gender, and community biases to achieve greatness in their lives; this can help them understand the above-mentioned point of focusing on achievements and everyday actions.
- Listen to your teen when they speak; if they know you are paying attention and care about their feelings, they will feel encouraged to open up about struggles.
Poor Self-esteem and Negative Body Image Issues – How Doorways Can Help Your Teen
If your teen is struggling with poor body image or low self-esteem, there is every chance they can fall into the trap of unhealthy lifestyle choices, including bad dietary habits and addictions. Assistance by way of behavioral, family, group counseling, and psychiatric intervention can help your teen learn to respect, feed, and appreciate their body.
In the years before the internet, a teen’s self-image was influenced primarily by peers at school. Teens and young adults often looked to each other for the current acceptable body image. With today’s technology and particularly social media, many teenagers and young adults are more influenced by the online feedback of their peers than ever.
In past years, teens would see images of models in a magazine or on TV. Now, with the internet, teens can spend endless amounts of time searching online for images of models or celebrities. With social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat relying heavily on visual images, many teens are now comparing themselves to other teens online and opening themselves up to criticism, sometimes even leading to bullying.
Recently, researchers at Flinders University found that specific social media activities, such as viewing and uploading photos and seeking negative feedback via status updates, were identified as particularly problematic. A small number of studies also addressed underlying processes and found that appearance-based social comparison mediated the relationship between social media use and body image and eating concerns.
If a teen already has body image issues, social media can often exasperate their issues. Something as simple as posting a picture on social media which does not get the positive feedback they were striving for, can lead to further distortion of their self-image and sometimes depression.
In a recent report entitled Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, by Common Sense Media, among the teens active on social networks, 35 percent reported having worried about people tagging them in unattractive photos; 27 percent reported feeling stressed out about how they look when they post pictures; and 22 percent reported feeling bad about themselves when nobody comments on or “likes” the photos they post.
So, what can parents do to help their children navigate the criticism on social media?
Discuss the photos they are posting: Ask your teen if they are posting photos for feedback only. Discuss why they are looking for approval from others, and if they are upset at any comments that are appearing on their postings.
Help them develop a healthy self-image: Families also play an important part of body image. Be sure to not criticize other people’s looks around your children, including your own.
Share with them your own stories: Remember that awful turtleneck you wore to school and the kids all made fun of you? Let your kids know they are not alone in the awkwardness we all experienced at their age.
Talk about the unrealistic images the media showcases: With today’s photoshop capabilities, most anyone can look “perfect.” Share with your teen the unattainability of most of the images they are seeing.
If you have a teen that struggles with self-image or eating disorders, there is help. Check out our resource page, or contact one of our confidential, caring teen counselors. We always offer a free consultation to those who need help. Just give us a call at 602-997-2880 today.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, there are a tremendous amount of benefits to exercising for adolescents including maintaining a healthy weight and the prevention of certain diseases later in life. Additionally, exercise provides better academic performance and the creation of a lifetime of healthy habits.
In addition to physical health benefits, adolescents who exercise also experience benefits to their mental health. Exercise can lead to lower rates of depression. These lower rates can be attributed to the fact that adolescents who exercise have a higher self-esteem which is linked to lower levels of depression. It is noted that this can be especially important for adolescent girls who tend to experience more depression than adolescent boys.
A recent publication by the Harvard Medical School evaluates a study that supports the idea that exercise is good for adolescent mental health. Particularly for those already receiving formal treatment. What they found was that for those adolescents the addition of exercise leads to a moderate improvement in their depression.
Based on the results, while exercise can help a depressed adolescent, it is not necessarily a substitute for more formal treatment. We should also note that this is referring to a healthy amount of exercise. During its Risky Business campaign, Mental Health America has discussed exercise extremes.
These extremes include those that don’t exercise enough and those that exercise too much. Let’s explore this as it relates to adolescents so parents can be aware of a healthy amount of exercise for their teens since we know that can positivity impact their mental health.
A person that does not exercise enough has an increased risk for certain physical health issues, but it can also contribute to depression and anxiety.
On the other extreme is someone who compulsively exercises. A compulsive exerciser or one that is addicted to exercising will miss out on obligations. If they do miss a workout, it can lead to feelings of guilt and/or sadness. Additionally, they may continue to exercise despite an injury or illness.
If your teen is not getting enough exercise, here are some ways to encourage them to begin an exercise program.
- First, speak with your family doctor and make sure there are no special considerations to consider before beginning an exercise regimen.
- Begin at a slow pace and gradually work up to more difficult activities.
- Get someone like a friend or relative to join so that they can motivate and hold one another accountable.
If you have a teen that is a compulsive exerciser you can help them take control and get into a healthier workout regimen.
- Change up workout routine to include less strenuous workouts or take days off from working out altogether.
- Discuss healthy body types.
- Make sure your teen is getting adequate nutrition from the food they are eating.
- Don’t allow negative self-talk. For example, putting down their body type or thinking they are lazy.
- Encourage a discussion about healthy exercise habits and ask your teen if they are struggling with what that is.
If your teen is struggling with either compulsive exercising or depression, know when to seek the help of a mental health professional.
Doorways LLC. is a faith-based counseling organization in Phoenix, Arizona, that provides comprehensive outpatient treatment focused exclusively on 13-25-year olds and their families specializing in treatment for eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety/OCD, substance abuse, depression, ADD/ADHD, self-harm, suicide prevention, and family counseling.
To begin with, the idea of labeling certain foods as “dirty” as opposed to “clean” can be a dangerous concept. If someone is eating anything other than vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins, does that mean that what they are eating is “dirty?” For those struggling with weight and diet issues, this can quickly turn into obsessing over everything that one consumes according to the Huffington Post. This could potentially lead to an eating disorder. If you notice that your teen has gotten caught up in the “clean eating” trend, here are some ideas on how you can encourage healthy eating habits instead.
- Everything in moderation.
While there are some foods that we know we shouldn’t eat all the time, like a box of cookies, the danger of labeling certain foods as off-limits it that it causes them to be more tempting to eat. Explain to your teen that it is perfectly okay to have a cookie occasionally. Everything in moderation.
- Don’t fall prey to the trends out there.
Between food bloggers, social media, etc. all new diet trends are put out there and largely discussed-particularly when they have been successful for weight loss. “Clean eating” might be all the rage right now, but down the road society will likely shift gears onto the next trend. Talk to your teen about the importance of not always following the crowd and evaluating what is right for them.
- Focus on the nutrients that your body needs.
As stated by the Huffington Post, nourishment isn’t just the physical, but also about the mental and emotional satisfaction that food can provide. Eating a salad with grilled chicken, and light dressing is a satisfying and healthy meal, but that doesn’t mean that your mom’s homemade pasta dish isn’t just as satisfying. There is a time for comfort foods. Remind your teen of that.
Encourage your teen to take cues from their body as to what nourishment they need and to be diligent about not obsessing about whether the foods they are eating are “clean” vs “dirty.” If you are concerned that your teen’s fixation with food is dangerous, please consult one our specialists here at Doorways.
Doorways offers individual and group programs for teens and young adults who are struggling with eating disorders. Our certified eating disorder experts are here to help your teen get their life back again.
According to a recent report from Common Sense Media, teens are spending an average of about nine hours on social media daily and this does not include what they may be using at school.
Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have become an integral part of teenager’s lives, something that many teens feel they can’t live without. One of the more negative sides of social media use is how these media are serving to influence a teen’s personal body image.
Proud 2 Be Me, is an online community that was created by teens for teens. Their goal is to promote positive body image. Proud2BeMe posed the question to their community of whether social media sites help or hurt self-esteem and body image. The answers were enlightening:
Teens indicated that it’s all about getting the coveted “like” on social media. Teens crave that positive attention. And the more likes the better. To get likes, teens, especially females, will often oversexualize themselves. One teen said, “The less clothes you have on, the more popular you are.” –-Dayton, 17.
The problem is that the more of these oversexualized pictures the teens see, the more that look becomes the norm, rather than the exception. And teens start comparing themselves to these images that they are bombarded with, resulting in a false idea of what it is normal to look like. In a way, social media is like an online beauty contest that never ends. And unfortunately, most teens feel like they can’t win this contest unless they do something drastic such as crash dieting to try to lose a lot of weight fast.
What is a parent to do about this? It’s not realistic to ban your teen from using social media. You can help combat this negative influence by encouraging your teen to share what’s on their social media accounts with you. Then you can discuss the pictures and the impact they have on our body image and self-esteem.
If your teen is struggling with body image and is engaging in unhealthy activities to alter their appearance such as extreme dieting, there is help.
At Doorways, we have caring, confidential, nutritionists and counselors on staff who are experts in teaching teens how to make healthy lifestyle choices. We offer a free consultation to any parent seeking help. Just call us at 602-997-2880.
If your teen is struggling with body image, weight or food issues, the holidays make it so much more stressful. This is particularly true at Thanksgiving, which is a completely food centered holiday.
According to The Huffington Post, some 10 million Americans are fighting an eating disorder. For them, the amount of food around the holiday can be downright painful. For those with anorexia, the food at Thanksgiving can be scary since there is an expectation to eat the food and enjoy it. For those suffering with bulimia or a binge eating disorder, they may be having difficulty controlling their desire to purge being surrounded by so many triggers. However, there are ways that you can not only help your teen survive the holiday, but enjoy it.
While you may be busy cooking, cleaning, or visiting with family throughout the day, don’t forget to check in with your teen and see how they are doing. Additionally, you might suggest that they reach out to a friend that they can check in with throughout the day to give them an outlet to vent. Make sure they know that they are not alone.
The Huffington Post says that your teen should have a game plan. Encourage your teen to eat a healthy breakfast. Maybe they decide to avoid the pre-meal snacks so they can focus on the main meal. At the main meal, they can then make choices that are deliberate.
Ignore the Diet Talk
There is no avoiding the diet talk. As everyone is over indulging at the dinner table it is almost certain that someone will bring up how much they will need to exercise after the meal. Or how they are going to starve themselves after consuming a week’s worth of calories. It is important to talk to your teen about the possibility of this happening so that they can remind themselves that other people’s food issues are not also theirs. Encourage them to not feel guilty about what they are eating nor deprive themselves either.
Focus on Gratitude
While it may seem like it is all about the feast, it is really about thankfulness. Help redirect your teen’s focus from the feast to something or someone that they are thankful for. Maybe have everyone go around the table and say what they are grateful for to help further cement that focus.
Encourage your teen to enjoy their Thanksgiving meal and the special time with friends and family and most importantly, their thankfulness. If you find that your teen needs additional support, reach out to someone that specializes in eating disorders. Happy Thanksgiving!
As a guide in your teen’s healthy growth and development, it is especially important that you do not unintentionally do any harm while you are encouraging a healthy lifestyle for your teen. Here are four ways the National Eating Disorders Association recommends to positively reframe your conversations about weight and health with your teen:
When you talk about food, focus on health, strength, and nutrition rather than weight loss
The ways that you discuss food and exercise can definitely affect your teen’s eating habits and may also impact how they view their body. In fact, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, weight-related comments from parents or siblings were highly linked to disordered eating habits geared toward unhealthy, unsafe weight loss measures, particularly in teen girls.
Whether your teen is underweight, normal weight, or overweight, your words matter to them when speaking about their bodies. To ensure that you do not unintentionally harm your teen, you should focus on talking about health, strength, and nutrition rather than weight loss or diets. For example, saying, “Fresh fruits and vegetables help your body and mind stay healthy and strong.”, will be more helpful for your teen than saying, “You need to lose some weight, so eat all your vegetables”. The distinction of focusing on eating for health and strength will help your teen develop a better relationship with food and understand the importance it plays in a healthy lifestyle.
Ensure everyone in your family speaks the same way about health, food, and exercise
To make certain that your family practices healthy eating habits, and talks about food, weight, and exercise in positive ways, everyone needs to use the same language. You and your spouse, as well as any siblings in the household, need to all talk about these things in the same way.
Emphasize the importance of health over weight
When you want to talk about weight with your teen, pause and remember to speak about health instead. Speaking about the value of eating well for good health and energy to do all the things you enjoy, rather than the importance of being a particular weight will ultimately help your teen develop a more positive body image and relationship with healthy food.
Demonstrate your words in your body and life
Speaking positively about food, health, and exercise with your teen is very important. However, it is equally vital that you live the example of your words, and make sure you are not silently demonstrating unhealthy eating patterns or body image views to your teen.
If your teen is struggling with body image or an eating disorder, then speaking with a professional teen counselor can help you learn more ways to promote healthy eating and lifestyles in your home and your words.
While the physical development brought about by puberty is much more evident on the surface, your teen is also experiencing very significant, drastic changes that you won’t be able to see so clearly if you don’t understand where to look. These seemingly invisible changes occur in the makeup and chemistry of your teen’s brain, and have a very dramatic impact on emotional and mental health.
Understanding how your teen’s body and mind are changing during puberty will help you guide their growth more effectively and keep them mentally and emotionally strong.
Understand the physical changes your teen is experiencing as they go through puberty.
During puberty, many things will develop and change in the way that your teen’s body looks and functions. During this vital phase of human development, teens begin the process of reaching full physical maturation, and will begin to notice their bodies changing as they grow.
This can be a confusing time for teens as their bodies change, so it is important as a parent to understand what changes are happening, and speak honestly and openly with your teen about them. Be sure to emphasize that this is a perfectly normal and natural process, and help your teen understand they should feel no shame in their changing body.
Additionally, during puberty your teen’s sleep cycle will most likely change as part of their growth. According to MentalHelp.net, this is due to a shift in the circadian rhythm that drives sleep patterns during puberty. This shift causes teens to feel highly alert in the nighttime hours, which can lead to lost sleep and daytime irritability. While it is important that your teen gets adequate rest, knowing that a physical change happening to their body is causing their late nights will help you be more patient and supportive.
Know about the drastic changes that occur in the adolescent brain during puberty.
During puberty, teenagers experience the largest brain growth spurt since infancy. This extreme season of change in your teen’s brain is what will cause your teen to begin acting with more independence, but it will also be responsible for irrational emotional periods as well.
According to Live Science, the adolescent brain changes in these key ways during puberty:
- The teen brain becomes more connective and processes more information, more quickly due to growing brain matter.
- Puberty triggers intense changes to the limbic system, which causes teens to act on emotions before logic.
- Abstract thought capabilities develop during puberty, and teens begin to gain a view of themselves as perceived by others.
- Development in the prefrontal cortex and limbic systems together make risk taking more prevalent during puberty.
- Hormonal changes and surges in the brain during puberty cause teens to feel as though they are at the center of all the attention surrounding them.
Prepare for any changes in your teen’s emotions, and know what is normal and what should cause you concern.
Due to the changes in their brains and bodies during puberty, teens are much more likely to take risks and experience emotional and mental instability. While many behaviors are a normal part of the maturation of adolescence, it is important to understand the changes your teen is undergoing, and also be aware of what signals might point to potential issues in your teen’s mental or emotional health.
If your teen has been suffering consistent bouts of emotional turmoil, depression, or has lost interest in family, school, or friends, then speaking with a trained teen counselor can help you sort through what behaviors are a natural result of puberty, and which may point to the development of mental health issues.
Participating in athletics is a fantastic way for your teen to stay healthy and fit, while learning the value of teamwork, respect, and hard work. Playing sports can also build self-esteem and help your teen form healthy bonds of friendship as they learn how to handle success and defeat.
However, as you teen begins to develop athletic skills and pursuits, they will also become more aware of their bodies and how they compare to their peers and any athletic icons they look up to as role models and motivation.
Unfortunately, this heightened body scrutiny and comparison can give way to unhealthy body image issues and evolve into eating disorders very quickly if your teen is not equipped with a strong sense of what it means to be healthy, strong, and athletic. In fact, according to the National Mental Health Institute, 2.7 percent of teens age thirteen to eighteen have struggled with some type of eating disorder.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, here are four ways that you can help support a healthy body image in your teen athlete to protect them from developing dangerous, unhealthy eating or training habits:
Understand eating disorders and other body image issues your teen may face.
It is important to understand that eating disorders do not stem solely from eating or not eating in unhealthy manners. Eating disorders are a symptom of a much deeper mental, emotional, or psychological issue that may be plaguing the happiness and well-being of your teen. Make sure that you do the research on what different body image issues and eating disorders exist, and fully understand how they may impact your teen as they strive to excel in athletics.
Know how to identify if your teen is struggling with their body image or suffering from an eating disorder.
To keep your teen healthy and safe, know the warning signs and symptoms to look for that may provide you early warning into a potential problem. Most teenagers will not come forward openly with their body image or eating disorder problems, so you will need to begin the open, honest, supportive conversation if you witness the warnings. According to the Mayo Clinic, warnings of an eating disorder may include:
- Abnormally low body weight
- Fear of weight gain
- Distorted body image
- Expressions of self-hatred or loathing
- Excessively limiting calories or food intake
- Escaping to the rest room immediately after a meal
- Refusing to eat
- Vomiting after meals
- Use of weight loss pills or laxatives
Talk to your teen about their athletic role models, and help them identify healthy bodies and training regimes.
As the Summer Olympics quickly approaches, your teens will be watching with added excitement and attention as the very best competitors in their favorite sports compete for medals. This is a great opportunity to point out healthy, strong bodies and talk to your teen about the best ways to accomplish their fitness goals in a safe manner.
Additionally, there are many athletes who have overcome eating disorders. Sharing these stories of triumph and success can help encourage your teen to open up and seek help if they have been experiencing issues with their body or are developing an unhealthy relationship with eating.
Intervene with support, positivity, and straightforward help when you suspect body image issues or eating disorders in your teen.
If your teen exhibits the warning signals of poor body image or a potential struggle with an eating disorder, you should intervene immediately. When you bring up this topic with your teen, do not speak in judgmental or negative terms. Be open, positive, and straightforward as you encourage your teen to speak openly while you listen. If your teen continues to display unhealthy behaviors after you’ve intervened, it can be immensely helpful to consult the advice of a professional teen counselor to help you reach your teen with tools for an active and healthy approach to athletics and life.