Teen Behavior Eating Disorders Body Image

Teens today are growing up in a culture that prizes physical beauty. Too often, the images from TV, fashion magazines and movies provide a narrow and unrealistic standard for what constitutes a beautiful woman or a good looking man, especially when it comes to body type. Often in the media, women are portrayed as painfully thin while men are overtly muscular.

Some of these magazines and television programs are specifically targeted at teens, and body image can be negatively affected as a result. Many teens compare the image they see in the mirror to the ones in the media and wonder if they measure up. Feelings of self-worth can become linked to body image, setting the stage for development of an eating disorder.

Preventing Teen Eating Disorders

Parents can help prevent teen eating disorders by encouraging a positive body image. Suggestions include:

  • Build your teen’s self esteem through praise (and not just about their looks). Tell your daughter she is beautiful or your son that he is good looking, but also give plenty of praise for accomplishments that have nothing to do with physical appearance.
  • Discuss how images in the media often portray unrealistic ideals. Talk about how these images can create body image issues for many people. Ask your teen questions about what they see on TV and elsewhere and how it makes them feel.
  • Educate your teen on the realities of puberty and weight gain. Explain that girls naturally begin to accumulate body fat as they mature, but not all girls go through this transition at the same time.
  • Encourage healthy eating by providing nutritious snacks and meals, but don’t try to control what your teen eats. Food shouldn’t be the focus of a power struggle.
  • Introduce your teen to role models who are famous for their accomplishments rather than their appearance. Let them know that thinness and good looks are not the most important qualities in a person.
  • Set an example for positive self-image. Avoid criticizing your own physical appearance in front of your children.
  • Pay attention to the television programs, magazines and movies that your teen watches. If some of their viewing material could be promoting a negative body image, discuss your concerns with your teen.
  • Promote physical exercise. Make it a family activity that your teen can enjoy without pressure.
  • When discussing weight issues of any kind, always focus on health, rather than appearance.

Resources

Mayo Clinic Staff. (2010). Healthy body image: Tips for guiding girls. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/healthy-body-image/MY01225

The Nemours Foundation. (2010). A guy’s guide to body image. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_body/take_care/male_bodyimage.html?tracking=T_RelatedArticle

Walker, S. and Amoroso, A. (2005). Body image: How parents can help. Retrieved September 13, 2010, from http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book/companion.asp?id=1