By: Olivia Delahunty, LPC
Body image discussions with teenagers, especially those navigating eating disorders, benefit from sensitivity, understanding, and open communication. Some parents find it challenging to support their teenagers toward a healthier self-image. If your teenager reports significant body image distress, consider involving a therapist or counselor specialized in eating disorders. In your own home, this guide can help navigate these conversations with your adolescent:
1. Create a Safe and Trusting Environment for Sharing
Parents and caregivers can encourage open dialogue with their teenagers about body image by creating a safe environment without fear of judgment. Acknowledge their emotions and show empathy and understanding. In these conversations, validate their feelings and avoid dismissing or minimizing their struggles. Parents can create opportunities for dialogue and initiate discussions about body image by showing interest in their teens’ interests, feelings, and asking open-ended questions.
2. Use Empathetic and Supportive Language
Communicate using supportive language that focuses on feelings and experiences rather than making judgments. Avoid critical or shaming language that might exacerbate their insecurities. Some examples of this type of supportive language include: “It’s okay to feel scared about the changes happening. Your feelings are completely valid”, “It’s okay if you’re finding it hard to manage everything right now. We can work through this together”, or “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me. It takes courage to talk about this”.
3. Emphasize Health Over Appearance
Shifting the focus from appearance to overall health and well-being encourages teens to focus on behaviors that contribute to their overall well-being, such as balanced nutrition, a positive relationship with movement, and mental wellness (rather than adhering to unrealistic beauty standards). Acknowledge that bodies come in various shapes, sizes, and forms, and promote acceptance of diverse body types to reduce body shaming or stigma.
4. Encourage Positive Self-Talk and Self-Acceptance
Encourage your teenager to practice positive self-talk and nurture self-acceptance. Empower your teenager to recognize their unique traits, strengths, and individuality and teach them to appreciate themselves beyond societal standards. Examples of positive self-talk include: “I value my body’s ability to move, breathe, and experience life” and “My body deserves love and care, and I treat it with compassion”.
5. Foster Critical Thinking about Media Influence
Discuss the impact of media and societal beauty standards on body image. Encourage critical thinking about media messages, highlighting how they’re often unrealistic or digitally altered for marketing purposes. Encourage them to explore different sources and representations of beauty across cultures and communities. You can ask your teenager, “How is this content making you feel about your body?” or “Do you think these images accurately represent real people?”
6. Model Positive Behavior
Parents of teenagers can set a positive example by practicing their own healthy behaviors. These healthy behaviors include modeling self-care, self-acceptance, and a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Be mindful of the language used around weight, and beauty standards, and refrain from making critical comments about your own body or others.
7. Reiterate Unconditional Love and Support
Remind your teenager that your love and support are unconditional. Unconditional love can be shown by celebrating their achievements, acknowledging their efforts, and offering reassurance during challenging times. Be present, provide guidance, and show empathy consistently regardless of their body, actions, or accomplishments. Position yourself as a source of support and remind them that seeking help is a sign of strength.