One of the negative effects of social media is that it can impact the self-esteem and body image of impressionable teens. This is also an age where teens may pick up on language or criticisms of body types from parents and family members. For too many teens, these and other factors impact their own self-esteem and body acceptance. Teens may respond with everything from negative body image to an eating disorder to an unhealthy relationship with exercise.
So how can you motivate teens to love their body and take good care of it? Parents and caregivers set the tone for physical and emotional wellness in the home. How you speak, what you say, and what you do has great power. Here are four ways to make a positive difference in your teen’s body acceptance.
1. Check yourself
Even parents or caregivers with the best of intentions can impact their child’s view of themselves and self-love. Whether they hear a parent or caregiver discussing their own body or someone else‘s critically, or if triggering words like “fat” or “skinny” are used in the home, teens pick up on these things. There is great power in the words you use about body types, food, and exercise. Focus on how the body works instead of how it looks, the nutritional properties of foods instead of caloric value or serving size, and the benefits of a healthy exercise routine for mood and strength instead of the number of calories burned.
2. Offer unconditional love
One of the most important ways to create a positive home environment is by living unconditional love—follow the maxim “Love me as I am, not how you want me to be.” Focusing on who your teen is inside, noting their strengths, and expressing unconditional love for them through words and deeds is crucial. Your language and attitudes can negatively or positively impact a teen’s self-esteem. Parents and families need to be aware of the power their words and actions can have on their teens, particularly if their teen is dealing with low self-esteem, body image issues, and/or an underlying mental health disorder.
3. Support good mental health habits
Being willing to talk about your feelings, being open to discussing mental health and self-love, being educated about body image and body acceptance, and asking your teen open-ended questions to create positive conversations are all key to helping them establish good mental health “hygiene.”
Do you know how your teen views themselves? Do they spend excessive amounts of time looking in the mirror or obsessing over their appearance? These are cues for parents and caregivers to open the conversation about body image.
4. Help them build positive physical health habits
Families can play a key part in a teen’s healing from eating disorders or other mental health disorders related to negative body image. Rather than singling out a teen with diet restrictions just for them, the whole family can eat well. Moreover, eating a healthy variety of foods supports both physical and mental health. Eating proteins for strong muscles or eating plenty of fruits and vegetables for vitamins and minerals helps create a connection between wellness and food rather than body image and food. Avoiding fad diets also helps teens to develop positive experiences around eating.
Likewise, the family that exercises together for fun will find joy in movement, rather than associating movement with body type or weight. Going for walks, playing sports together, or even just playing tag in the backyard together can promote good health without feeling like exercise. Making a healthy exercise routine fun is especially important for teens who refuse to exercise or overexercise. When teens are obsessed with exercising, when they exercise so much it hurts them, or they try to hide how much they are exercising, they may be addicted to exercise. Breaking unhealthy exercise habits is just as important as creating a healthy exercise routine in teens who did not previously exercise enough.
5. Get professional help
The teen years can be brutal when it comes to body acceptance. When a teen’s emotional distress regarding negative body image is affecting their mood and daily functioning on an ongoing basis, parents and caregivers need to find help. Because many eating disorders, exercise addictions, and other unhealthy behaviors are often symptoms of underlying depression, anxiety, or other serious mental health disorders, it is critical that parents seek the advice of a mental health professional.
If you are concerned about your loved one and their mental health, contact us today and find out how we can help. We are here to support you and your family through the process of healing.