Helping Teens Develop Healthy Body Images
When you are a parent, there are only so many ways you can protect your children as they growup in this world. As they approach their teenage years, those ways grow fewer and fewer asthey become independent and face more challenges all on their own.Many teens face issues when it comes to their bodies. Adolescence is a time of rapid physicalchanges. All of a sudden, their joints hurt, their skin changes and they grow in ways they havenever experienced before. On top of all that, kids today have to face an abundance of images inthe media that tell them how they should look, if only for the purpose of trying to sell themsomething.Helping your teen deal with these negative presences while encouraging them to develop ahealthy body image isn’t easy. There is only one of you and there are millions of ways thatmedia can reach children. However, with a healthy amount of communication and a lot of love,you can do your part in your child’s healthy body image development.
Lead by Example
Sure, your teenager is doing everything in their power to differentiate themselves from theirparent, but in the end you are the source of guidance they turn to when it comes to theimportant things. If they see you staring in the mirror and constantly criticizing your body,starting up crazy fad diets, and comparing yourself to the unrealistic images present on socialmedia, TV, and print, they will think those behaviors are normal. If you want your child todevelop healthy habits and attitudes regarding their body image, you have to lead by example.
Encourage Healthy Amounts of Exercise
Please note that when we say “encourage exercise,” we do not mean “tell your teen they shouldprobably go outside and run because they are looking a little pudgy.” Exercise has gotten a badwrap in the past 75 years or so because as life got easier and society grew softer, companiesfound a way to make exercise a capitalistic venture. In turn, we’ve come up with “feel the burn”mentality that is so prevalent in diet culture and the health clubs that sell it. Instead ofencouraging exercise in your family as a means toward approaching some mythical image BigFitness wants to sell you, look at is as a necessary tool humans needs to maintain both physicaland mental health. In fact, studies show that even a small amount of moderate exercise mayhelp improve body image.
Watch for Warning Signs
Eating disorders are serious diseases that put peoples lives at risk. Many teens develop eatingdisorders as a way to control their bodies and lives in the face of the struggles of adolescence.Catching an eating disorder in the early stages can make rehabilitation and recovery easier inthe long run. Look for the following signs of an eating disorder in your teen:
Sudden weight loss
Constant weight fluctuations
Disappearing after meals (this could be a sign of purging)
Avoiding social plans that involve food
Loss of interest in sports or other school activities
Playing with or pushing around food
Hiding food in bedroom
Delayed puberty or growth
Brittle nails and easy bruising
Complains of feeling cold and tired
A preoccupation with “safe” foods like carrots or celery
If you believe your child may be developing an eating disorder, it is important to approach thetopic with kindness and compassion. Explain to your child that you are worried for their healthand well-being and only want to help. Discuss scheduling a doctor’s appointment where theirpediatrician or physician can recommend next steps for recovery.
Teens face a lot of pressure when it comes to their body image, but you are their ultimate rolemodel. Lead by example and teach your child that having the media’s idea of a perfect bodydoesn’t make anyone happy. Encourage exercise as a way to maintain optimal physical andmental health, not as a means for correction or weight loss. Finally, be present and watch forsigns of eating disorders in teens. If you fear your child is developing unhealthy habits,approach them with love and compassion when discussing what you notice.Guest Blog Contribution By Dan Sherwin