Adolescents struggle with finding a healthy way of viewing their bodies. Media pressures, family expectations, and peer pressure all seem to collaborate to create an atmosphere in which teenagers constantly believe that how they look is unacceptable and needs to change. Witness the mounting obesity problem among young people, along with growing numbers of teenagers who struggle with eating disorders. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, more than 33% of teenagers are overweight, and ten percent of teens struggle with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.
Teens with a poor body image tend to fight with depression, struggle academically, and have a difficult time making healthy social connections. Some experts claim that poor body image is simply a part of normal adolescent development, while others view it as a epidemic problem that must be addressed by caring parents, teachers and other adults in order to prevent later serious health problems.
How to help teens overcome a poor body image
- Involve the entire family in developing healthy eating habits, trying healthy recipes, and talking about what it means to be healthy.
- Get creative in finding physical activities that hold a teen’s interest while increasing physical fitness.
- Pay attention to warning signs of depression or eating disorders (including obesity).
- Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions, and notice when your teenager is getting overwhelmed with stress.
- Communicate regularly about what it means to have a healthy physical self-image.
- Explore ways to reduce fast food and junk food options, and provide healthy snack foods on a regular basis.
- Be aware of what your teen eats at school.
- Make healthy eating changes as a family, rather than expecting your teen to think well of their bodies if everyone else in the family is practicing unhealthy eating habits.
- Talk about the messages your teen hears that leaves them feeling that they’re too fat, too thin, too tall, too short.
- Even if you do everything “right” as a parent, your child may still struggle with a poor body image. Don’t give up on working toward helping them overcome the negative messages.
Places to find additional help
- Allstride: a healthy diet designed especially for overweight children, started by Ricki Lake.
- Blubberbuster: a great resource for overweight teens and their families.
- Rebecca’s House: eating disorders treatment options.
- The Moore Center: eating disorders treatment facility.
- Network Therapy: national network of therapists; search by state, city, counseling specialty, including those treating eating disorders.
Teens struggling with a poor body image need help from caring adults to assist them in accepting their current physical condition and help them move toward being the healthiest they can be. By being proactive, parents and other caring adults can make an enormous impact in how adolescents view their bodies, and can help them develop lifelong healthy habits.