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Children's Mental Health

10 Ways To Cultivate Positive Teen Body Image

Body image is defined as how and what you think and feel about your body. It includes the picture of your body that you have in your mind, which might or might not match your body’s actual shape and size.

“A person has a positive or healthy body image if they feel happy and satisfied with their body, and are comfortable with and accepting of the way they look,” says Danah Gutierrez, a body positivity advocate and host of the podcast “Raw and Real.mp3” together with her twin sister Stacy. “They accept that everyone is diverse, and that the body is not an ornament to be looked at.”

On the other hand, a person with a negative unhealthy body image feels unhappy with the way they look. “People who feel like this often want to change their body size or shape,” Danah adds.

A person’s body image is influenced by many factors. These include family environment, the attitudes of peers, social media, cultural background, and more.

Puberty is also a big influence. This is a time when a child’s body goes through lots of changes; at the same time, teens encounter the pressures of fitting in and finding a sense of belonging. “In my high school, conversations about who are the best-looking in our batch were common; students would be ranked based on who was the prettiest, and I was told many times that if I lost weight, my rank would go higher,” Danah relates.

This is why if you are a parent to teens or work with teens, it is important to know that you have an influence on your child’s body image. “There’s nothing wrong with wanting your child to be well-groomed or present themselves well; these are good values,” Danah points out. “But how much do you value appearances, and is it perceived in a healthy way? Because there can be situations when teens will not process it the right way.”

An unhealthy teenage body image is directly related to low self-esteem, which are risk factors for the development of risky weight loss strategies, eating disorders, and mental health disorders like depression. “It might also lead teens to look for detrimental ways to feel desired, to feel a sense of belongingness, or to be valued, such as turning to peers or the media,” cautions Danah.

On the other hand, teens who feel good about their body grow up more likely to have good self-esteem and mental health as well as a balanced attitude to eating and physical activity.

“When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful!”

Danah Gutierrez, body positivity advocate

Here are the things you can do to help your teen develop a positive body image:

  1. Explain that weight gain is normal during puberty. During this time, children feel “out of control” with the changes they are experiencing in their body. It can help tremendously to know about and understand these changes before they occur. Girls who are experiencing their first menstrual cycle, especially, should realize that growth and weight spurts are necessary and normal for their development.

  2. ‘Instagram vs. reality.’ Tell your teen to be more discerning of what they see on social media or tv. Help assuage their insecurities by explaining how the images are often digitally manipulated so that people look more ‘beautiful’ than they really are.

  3. Focus on inner beauty. “Beauty is a state of mind, not a state of body,” says Danah. “When teens feel good about themselves and who they are, when they carry themselves with a sense of confidence, self-acceptance, and openness — that makes them beautiful.”

  4. Discuss self-image. “Have an honest and vulnerable discussion with your teen about weaknesses and flaws (theirs and yours), share your own struggles and what healthy ways you took to be better,” Danah explains.

  5. Help establish healthy eating and exercise habits. If your child wants to eat differently or do more exercise, that’s OK – but make sure it’s for healthy reasons, and the dieting and exercise don’t become extreme. “Let your child know that healthy eating and physical activity aren’t just for weight loss – they’re vital for physical health, now and in the future,” points out Danah.

  6. Praise achievements. “Don’t have to limit compliments to appearance, i.e. you’re so fair-skinned, you’re so skinny,” says Danah. “Tell your child that you’re proud of them for things that aren’t related to appearance, such as ‘I love how you’re so eager to learn about life’ or ‘You’re so mature for your age’ or ‘I really enjoy your company.’” 

Also focus on what their body can do, rather than how their body looks. For example, you can say, ‘Wow, you hit that ball a long way’, rather than ‘Gosh, you’ve got big arm muscles’.

  1. Set a good example. If you show that you feel positive about your own body, it’ll be easier for your child to be positive about their body. Talk about eating healthy, not dieting; talk about exercising to be stronger, not to lose weight; and do let your child see you eating a variety of food, vegetables, and lean meats, not only diet foods or fat-free foods.

  2. Discourage family and friends from using hurtful nicknames and joking about people who are overweight. Teasing can have a negative influence on body image and can also lead to bullying. It’s important to let everyone in your family know that teasing about weight or appearance is not okay. “I would call out the commenter by saying right away ‘What did you say? I don’t think that’s funny,’” Danah says. “Then I would have a private conversation with that person and tell them I would appreciate it if they did do that in front of my kid, that’s not going to help my child in any way, and I think my child is beautiful just the way they are.”

  3. Connect them with body positive role models. There are things teens cannot share with their parents, and that is normal. “So make sure there are other older people in your circle who are trustworthy, have good character, are grounded, and who carry themselves with confidence,” says Danah. “This way when your child needs to seek advice, they don’t just rely on their peers who  are just as confused and clueless as they are.”

  4. Actively listen and communicate with your child. Respect that they have insecurities. “Don’t just tell them ‘What you are feeling is wrong,’ take the time to listen and figure them out,” suggests Danah. “Assure them that their looks are not the only thing about them, that they have so much more to offer. Make them understand that their body is an instrument, not just an ornament; it’s an instrument to experience good things and bad things, to enjoy life. And tell them that they can be beautiful in so many other ways than just through their appearances.”

As a parent, teacher, or close adult relative, you are the most influential role model in your children’s life. If your teen seems to have anxiety or stress about how he or she looks, start by talking with them about your concerns. And if things don’t change and you’re still worried, consider reaching out to a health professional. MindNation’s psychologists are available 24/7 for online consultations with you or your child. Book  a session now through http://m/me/themindnation or email [email protected] . Rest assured that all conversations will be kept secure and confidential.

Categories
Children's Mental Health

10 Ways To Talk To Teens If They Don’t Want To Talk To You

Whether we like it or not, teenagers are complicated creatures. From being sweet, wholesome, and talkative kids who cannot wait to tell you stories about their day, they can become moody, temperamental, and impulsive adolescents who prefer to stay glued to their phones and answer your questions with grunts and eye-rolls.

Don’t worry, it’s really part of growing up. “There is a science behind this change in behavior during the teenage years,” assures Dr. Margaret Mae Maano, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist. “During adolescence, teenagers experience changes in their bodies and brains and these changes don’t take place at the same time. The first part of the brain to develop would be the limbic system, or the part that deals with emotions, which will explain why teens can become moody. The last to develop would be the prefrontal cortex, which is the decision-making part of the brain, and explains why teens are more prone to engage in high-risk behaviors.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States, this brain remodelling will continue until the teen turns 25, so it’s important that adults around them be a steady and constant presence to protect them from the negative impacts of their impulses. 

In addition, the combination of a developing brain and experiencing so many physical, emotional, and social changes may make teens ill-equipped to handle stress and cause them to develop mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic, teens could always turn to their friends for mental health support,” says Dr. Maano. “But now that schooling is online, this support system is no longer as accessible. It’s up to the adults in the house to become their source of strength and support.”

Just because your teens seem withdrawn and reticent does not mean that they will not appreciate your efforts to maintain a close relationship; you just have to approach them the right way. Below are some ways you can connect with your teenagers and get them to open up (even if they seem like they don’t want to):

1. Make family meal times sacred. Aim to have the family complete during one meal time each day and institute a no-gadget rule at the dining table. This creates a safe space where family members can share how their day went or talk about whatever is on their minds. “When family mealtimes are the norm, this will ingrain in our teens’ minds that their parents will always make time to listen to them,” says Dr. Maano. 

2. Ask open-ended questions. This allows teens the opportunity to open up on their own terms and the freedom to talk about what they are comfortable to share.   

3. Keep the conversations stress-free and casual. Limit the lectures. “The key is to actually listen to what your teen says,” points out Dr. Maano.

4. Tone down the criticisms, turn up the praise.  “Sometimes, that positive statement from you may be the only good thing they have heard in a long time,” Dr. Maano says.

5. Don’t demand compliance; opt for negotiation. “Because teens are at a stage when they are trying to develop independence from their parents, they may not respond positively if we force them to do something,” opines Dr, Maano. “Instead of imposing your will, help them come up with a better way to handle their issues. Teens may not want you to solve their problems for them, but some guidance would be great.” 

6. Ask them about their opinions about what is going on in the world. This is a good way to understand what is going on in their minds. “It also makes them feel respected and valued,” points out Dr. Maano. 

7. Be clear with your family rules, such as non-school related screen time, smoking, swearing, etc. Everyone in the household should be in agreement with the rules and even adults should be bound by them; if some parts of the rules are contentious, negotiate during family meal times. 

8. Pick your battles. Don’t fight with your kids over every infraction committed. “Teens feel omnipotent, that diseases and dangers do not apply to them. They also tend to be experimental, so for example, they may try to smoke or drink alcohol out of curiosity but then stop on their own,” explains Dr. Maano. As a parent, the most you can do is guide them in making their own decisions. And if you do catch your teen disobeying your rules, such as skipping class, smoking, or drinking, address the issue calmly. Don’t lecture them because they will only shut you out. Find out why they started doing it, then negotiate on getting them to stop. If there are consequences, help them face up to it; and if they stop, commend them for making a good decision. 

9. Allow them some liberties but give them additional responsibilities at home as well.  Giving them responsibilities also means that you are trusting them as a young adult and boosts their confidence. 

10. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you find yourself facing an issue beyond your control or expertise, ask help from your child’s school counselors, your pediatrician or adolescent medicine specialist, or from mental health professionals. Dr. Maano gives some examples:

  • If you catch your teen doing drugs, this will require professional intervention. 
  • If you and/or your teen are uncomfortable talking about sex or reproductive health, find another trusted adult whom he or she can talk to, like their pediatrician. “But as early and as often as possible, I encourage parents to teach children about respect for the body, that private parts should remain private. If your daughter feels she is not ready to have sex with her boyfriend, tell her it is ok to refuse and say no.  And if your son has a girlfriend and she says no, he should respect that as well.”
  • Finally, self-harm and suicidal ideation should be treated as a cry of help from the teen. “Consult a mental health expert right away,” Dr. Maano advises. “If your child is reluctant to see a mental health expert, he or she might be more comfortable talking to their school’s guidance counselor first. The counsellor will be the one to recommend further evaluation.”

There are no hard and fast rules for parenting. “The good news is the majority of teenagers go through adolescence without any problems,” assures Dr. Maano. “Just be a constant presence in their lives, talking to them, listening without judgement, and keeping an open mind. Step back and allow them to discover things on their own. When your teen knows that you are just there, ready to listen, he or she will open up to you when they are ready.”

If you or your teen needs someone to talk to, MindNation’s Care Hotline is available on FB Messenger. The FREE service is available 24/7, all year round, and is completely confidential. Drop them a line here http://m.me/themindnation.