Dear Cici,

I’m starting to see signs in my preteen being critical of herself and her body. I am always telling her she’s beautiful, but she doesn’t believe me. How can I support her?

Great question. Concerns about how body image issues are impacting our kids are a growing topic among parents and even legislators. Internalized ideals regarding body image, media/social media influences, and messages from family and friends can all impact how young people think about their appearance.  

Statistically, one out of three teens report feeling unsatisfied with their bodies/appearance; this is concerning because individuals experiencing body dissatisfaction can be at risk for increased rates of depression, anxiety, and self-harming behaviors. Problems with negative body image affect boys as well as girls and can begin as early as elementary school. 

Many of the influences on our kids are beyond our control, but there are some things you can do to help support your child and build resilience:

Listen to your teen and validate their experience; pretending that the pressure to be thin, gorgeous, and “hot” doesn’t exist or that a person’s appearance is not related to who they are could backfire and leave your teen to believe you are out of touch. It’s important to acknowledge that the pressures they feel are real and they are not alone; most of us wrestle with mixed feelings about our bodies and appearance throughout our lives.

Parents and family can have a big influence on how teens see themselves. Consider the language you use when talking about your own body; If you make negative comments about your appearance or worry aloud about what you’re eating, you are teaching your teen to be self-critical and potentially develop unhealthy eating habits.

Encourage your teen to be physically active, play sports, and move their body; not only does exercise boost the mood and release stress and anxiety, it reminds us that having a strong healthy body feels amazing and is useful for so much more than just looking cute.

Be aware of the potential impact of media/social media on your teen’s self-image. 

Although not all young people struggle with social media, there is evidence that some teens are more susceptible to feelings of anxiety and depression resulting from constant exposure to images and content that push unrealistic lifestyle/beauty standards. Talk with your teen about their experience using social media and the ways in which it influences their own self-image. 

Modeling body acceptance, healthy eating habits and physical activity are a few of the ways parents can help their teens to feel happy with their own bodies. As always, maintaining open communication is key. Talk with your teen, empathize with what they’re going through and remind them that physical appearance is only one aspect of who they are.