Many times the struggle with self-esteem and body image occurs when puberty hits. The body undergoes so many changes at such a rapid rate and the need for acceptance can make it hard for kids to know if they are “normal” compared to their peers. And the most discouraging part is that puberty can last anywhere from 2 to 5 years!!
Not only do you have your peers to hamper you, the media can have a bigger affect than any other factor in a teen’s life. We are a constantly bombarded with images of skeleton thin models, commercials about the latest diets, those cutesy little pop singers with large breasts and thin waists. This can give anyone an unrealistic expectation of themselves. There is also a rise in teen guys who are having body image fears. Teen girls feel pressured to be smaller and thinner where as the guys are feeling the pressure to bulked up and look strong. Many teen males look for role models in sporting activities and will hear reports of steroids and other illegal drugs to help them enhance their appearance.
But the most important issue to look at in a teens life that affects there self-esteem and body image is their home life. So many parents spend more time criticizing their children then commending them. Always remember that learning starts at home. The criticizisms you dish out to your child could turn into that “voice in side their heads” when it comes to how they feel about themselves. I have always believed that if you are told something enough you will believe. My ex-husband called me stupid constantly no matter what I did. I still say it out loud when I do something and my new fiancé’ reminds me all the time that I am not stupid for messing up. So be mindful of what you say to your child. Criticize in a positive way. Instead of telling them they are stupid, tell them that everyone makes mistakes and they will do better next time. Another way that their body image and self-esteem can be hurt at home is how you feel about our own self! Are you always on a diet? Are you always looking in the mirror and saying you are fat or you need to change something about your body? Kids are like sponges and they are very observant. When a Slim Fast commercial comes on TV, my 4 ½ year old points to the TV and says “Mommy, that’s your diet drink”. I am wondering if this will have an affect on him seeing Mommy drinking diet drinks all the time.
Some teens may feel the only way to feel better about themselves is to change the way they look. In some cases it may be true depending on how overweight they are but reprogramming the way they see their body can make them feel better and help them defend themselves when they hear comments from other. My mother and grandmother always taught us that when someone picks on you or makes fun of you for something, they were usually more insecure with themselves then I was. That is a good thing to tell your kids I think. If they are secure about themselves, they will see the best in other people and not try to pick out the negatives.
Also teaching them that there are some things about our bodies that we can’t change (or should I say can’t change with the help of a very expensive plastic surgeon *smile*) like our height, shoe size, and facial features. If they feel they must lose weight, teach them to eat right and exercise not diet or develop an eating disorder. The best thing to do is “lead by example”. Your kids look up to you. Even though that is hard to believe by what they say to you sometimes, you are a role model to them. If you are eating right and doing the right thing, so will they. And what better way to get in some quality time with your child by going for a walk with them or popping in an exercise tape and doing it together.
So what if all else fails? Where should you turn to? My advice would be to suggest another adult the teen is close to such as a grandparent, aunt, uncle, coach, etc. It is not shameful to see a therapist either. A therapist can prevent and stop many destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, unnatural behaviors and maybe even depression that will lead to suicide.