How to Help Your Teen Develop A Positive Body Image and Self-Esteem

How to Help Your Teen Develop A Positive Body Image and Self-Esteem

by Lisa Davis, September 2, 2020

Do you remember the first time you ever thought negatively about yourself? Maybe you looked in the mirror and noticed a facial feature that you don’t like for the first time. Maybe you didn’t do something because you thought you would fail. Your mental state (including your body image and self-esteem) dictate how you view yourself and navigate the world around you. These factors have impacted your life on both a micro and macro scale. 

They will also impact your children. Consider your own self-esteem and confidence as you learn more about these concepts. How can you help your kids develop the healthy perspectives and positive perceptions you wish you had? 

Defining Body Image, Self-Confidence, and Self-Esteem

The first step toward improving how you view yourself is to consider the different lenses that you use to evaluate your physical, mental, and emotional being. There are three key terms to start with.

Body image is how you view your physical self. It can be viewed in a positive light (I like my hair, I have beautiful eyes) or in a negative light (I am too short, I am too tall, I don’t have curves, I am too curvy). As kids grow into tweens and teens, they start to become aware of their bodies – and specifically how they are perceived.   

Studies show that 25% of male teenagers are concerned with their masculinity and leanness, typically by expressing their desire for toned and defined muscles. Almost 50% of 13-year old girls reported being unhappy with their bodies, a number that grew to 80% by the time they reached the age of 17. 

Along with body image, self-esteem refers to how much a person feels they are worth. Self-esteem can refer to physical or mental value, depending on the person in question. For example, one person might have high self-esteem because they get good grades, but poor body image if they are self-conscious about their acne. Another student might have high self-esteem because of their body image.  

Finally, there is self-confidence, or judgment in your own abilities. A student may have high self-confidence going into a test because they studied and worked hard to learn the material or have high self-confidence because they didn’t prepare but think they are lucky and smart. 

These three lenses determine how your teen navigates the world and the decisions you make. Your teenage son might start to slouch because they have a negative body image about being bigger than their peers. Your daughter might not try out for the school play because of low self-confidence or belief they are good enough for a part. 

As a parent, it’s crushing to watch your kids devalue themselves. However, there are steps you can take to improve their self-perceptions and give them the confidence to tackle almost any situation.

Know the Influences of Your Teen’s Body Image and Self-Esteem

Teens and adolescents are sponges in that they are constantly learning and absorbing information that changes how they view the world around them. Almost any interaction they have during the day could change their body image or self-esteem. A few common influential sources for your teen include: 

  • School: teachers show how they value your teen and their academic potential. School friends can help or hurt your child’s self-esteem or body image. 
  • Media images and the internet: the web is packed with pictures of beautiful women, many of which have been photoshopped to reflect “ideal” beauty. The web also shows how people are valued in society based on their gender, race, age, weight, wealth, and other factors. 
  • Social activities, clubs, and churches: the people your teen interacts with in the community can affirm what they learn in school and online. These people can also challenge their beliefs about self-esteem and self-confidence. 
  • You and your family: parents and family members play a large role in the lives of their kids.  

There have been some changes in the media recently to address toxic views of body image. Some brands have addressed “no-photoshop” policies so they no longer make their models skinnier or remove stretch marks and other features that create unrealistic beauty standards for women. Other companies have moved toward inclusive sizing – sharing images of people both large and small to highlight how beauty isn’t tied to weight. 

This is significant because fashion companies, magazines, and the media have a huge impact on the audiences they reach. Telling young girls that they will only have worth if they are below a size eight can have long-term damaging effects on body image and self-esteem. When brands don’t use plus-size or diverse models and only carry a few sizes (or light skin-tones in the makeup industry) they send a message that reaching bigger customers or darker customers isn’t worth it. These customers aren’t cool enough or profitable enough to care about.      

Make Your Values Known at Home

While you can’t control every interaction that your child has, you can help them establish a set of beliefs at home that guides how they value themselves.

“When we spend a lot of time talking about something, we send a message that the topic is important,” Dr. Renee Engeln writes at Psychology Today. “ If we regularly talk to our children about kindness, we’re letting them know that kindness matters. If we frequently praise children for sharing, that demonstrates how much we value generosity.” 

Engeln’s comments come as part of a reflection on raising her daughter. She goes out of her way to compliment her daughter’s personality traits, achievements, and cute outfits, but never calls her cute or pretty or even comments on her appearance. She doesn’t want her daughter’s value to be tied into her looks. As her daughter builds up her self-esteem, she doesn’t want looks to be a significant figure that tips the scales – for better or worse.  

Boys can also benefit from adjustments to what it means to “be a man.” Many teens feel like they need to be big and strong to be manly. However, you as a parent can value manliness in the form of respect, honorable actions, and other internal traits. 

Additional Ways to Help Kids Develop Healthy Self-Esteem     

Helping your child develop healthy self-esteem is a process. They will naturally want to tear themselves down and the hormones that come with middle school and high school can be confusing and overwhelming. However, you can take steps to help your teen through these times. 

  • Encourage your kids to try. Putting themselves out there is a risk, but it could pay off. Emphasize a mindset where failure is part of the journey and your child will never know the outcome unless they at least try. 
  • Help them overcome obstacles. If your child does fail at something, help them learn to do better. This could mean helping them learn a new school or practicing with them so they can ace their next opportunity.   
  • Involve your kids in different opportunities. Your child doesn’t have to be great at everything. Let them try different sports, take different art classes, and enjoy multiple school subjects until they find something they are good at and passionate about. 

Most importantly, lead by example. Show your child what beauty looks like. Teach them how to handle failure and how to try again. Let them see what high levels of self-confidence and a positive body image looks like. Their peers and the media can impact their views, but you still wield a lot of influence as a parent. 

Kids can be mean. From elementary-age bullies to the cliques of middle school, there are so many forces looking to hurt your child’s self-esteem and body image. You can’t protect them from everything, but you can teach them how to pick themselves back up and keep going – a little stronger than before. 

Family Resources has services to help teens develop a positive self-image. Our Counseling Program gives teens the tools to recognize their self-worth and manage negative influences. 

Additionally, if you are the parent of a young adult 18-25 years of age, check out our Love Notes Workshops to help young adults develop healthy romantic relationships. We focus on how factors like self-esteem impact the people you date and how you value yourself romantically. This is a good way to start dating life off on the right foot.