Parents, Children and Body-Image

Every time we look in the mirror judging ourselves, feeling imperfect, let’s not forget that we are much more than that.

By Ivy Maloy

A teenager’s body image can affect everything from self-esteem to choices about clothing, diet, and exercise. It can also lead to afflictions such as anorexia. How can parents help their teenagers to achieve body positivity?

For a child to be confident on their body image, the parents must portray a model of a happy body image. Parents should avoid making negative comments about their own physical appearance, such a body size or aging. Making comments about their child’s physical appearance, whether positive or negative, may also have effects.

Another way parents can help is by demonstrating a healthy relationship with food. Parents should avoid language that moralizes food, such as eating ‘clean’ or labelling food as bad or unhealthy. Parents should aim to speak about body size in a neutral way and promote the idea that health is not dependent on a certain body.

Having conversations with your child from a young age about health and nutrition is a protective factor against a range of mental health as well as physical. Research recommends that rather than talking about the importance of exercise, ask them what physical activities they find fun. When parents talk too much about what foods are healthy, they lose sight of the fact that meals are more than nutrition. Reframing meals as a time for community and enjoyment can help prevent eating disorders.

Parents should be aware of the social media platforms that their children are using and the accounts they follow because, social media frequently exposes teenagers to unrealistic images of what health and beauty is. They should explain to them that the images portrayed are mostly altered and are not an accurate portrayal of their real selves. Limiting and monitoring their screen time allows children to spend more time engaging with the real world varied and realistic bodies rather than the curated and filtered images on social media.

About half of all teenage girls and a third of all teenage boys have engaged in unhealthy weight control practices such as skipping meals and use of other supplements. Teens with negative body image may experience anxiety, low self-esteem, depression or mood swings. Negative body image may also contribute to Body Dysmorphia, a mental health disorder in which someone can develop distorted perception of their appearance and fixate on flaws, real or imagined, to a point where it affects their daily lives.

If parents have concerns, a crucial first step is to seek out a mental health profession who has expertise in supporting teens with developing a positive body image and a healthy relationship with food and exercise.

Young people have the pressure of looking a particular way. It takes experience and confidence to stand in your own skin and realize that you can be different things in different environments. The notion that there is a ‘one size fits all’ basis to perfection is quite incredulous really considering how different we all are but it is also so hard not to compare themselves to others. But the goal is self-acceptance first, then improve.

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