Guest post by Julie Pullman from Rise Wellness Coaching
By the age of 17, 78% of girls are unhappy with their bodies and it’s no wonder why. Our society is filled with unrealistic expectations about beauty and weight. If we could only get our teens to focus on what their bodies can do instead of obsessing over what they look like, they could get a lot more enjoyment out of life. Imagine what they could do if just a fraction of the time spent in pursuit of unrealistic and ever-shifting body image were instead directed toward building a meaningful life and connection.
Having a healthy body image doesn’t mean teens don’t care about their looks, it means they value and appreciate their body. It means they accept and appreciate their body for what it is and what it does, not what it looks like.
What can we as parents do to help our teens foster a healthy body image and have health, happiness, and a higher quality of life?
As parents, it’s so important for us to instill in our kids that beauty and self-worth are more than skin deep. We need to educate them to look beyond society’s view of beauty and help them stay clear of the traps of dieting and unrealistic expectations about weight.
Steps we can take as parents:
- Don’t criticize or humiliate your child about what she is eating. It will make things worse and may lead them to feel shameful about their food choices.
- Limit access to junk food but don’t forbid it. There should be no ‘bad’ food or food that is off-limits unless there is a true allergy. Food restrictions can counter-intuitively fuel the desire for off-limits food and result in more craving, binging, and/or shame. There is space for all food. Instead offer a wide range of food and choices and encourage them to actively listen to what their body really wants. Allow for mistakes as growth opportunities.
- Provide a variety of healthy options for your teen. Put those choices in the front of the pantry and fridge in clear containers so that’s the first thing your teen sees.
- Try not to criticize yourself about what you ate or are eating and especially don’t criticize your body. They look to you for guidance. If we are constantly talking poorly about our bodies and weight they are going to pick up on that. Instead, set an example for them by eating and enjoying a wide range of food. Model making healthy food and lifestyle choices for yourself.
- Help them get to a point where they learn to accept their body regardless of its shape and size. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and are equally worthy, valuable, and healthy. We are all so much more than the shape of our bodies. That doesn’t mean they have to love absolutely everything about their bodies but encourage them to get to a place where their body doesn’t define them or steal their joy.
- Ask them about their thoughts and values around sneak cultural messages towards women and what they are supposed to look like. Your teens will likely have strong and powerfully mixed feelings about these topics.
- Encourage them to start listening to their self-talk and help them build awareness around their body image beliefs. Our bodies and health can be affected by negative thoughts. We have 50,000-80,000 thoughts a day and if those thoughts are mainly negative, that will ultimately affect our bodies and our health.
- Avoid making them clean their plates.
- Help them find activities to get them exercising and moving that they enjoy.
- Believe in them and be positive about their futures!