Teens, Media, and Body Image

From middle school on into the teen years, children are starting to become more self-aware and are noticing how their own bodies compare with others their age.  Along with the onset of puberty and the physiological and hormonal changes that occur with normal development come the psychological changes regarding how an adolescent feels about their body.  They may deem themselves too fat, too skinny, or not tall enough.  Many teens experience significant problems surrounding the issue of body image and these negative outlooks can adversely affect self-esteem.

The Media and Body Image
Teens today are saturated with media messages that tell them that a certain look equates to success, popularity, and prosperity.  For girls especially, the point taken from these messages is that if you don’t look a certain way then you are automatically devalued by society.  The enormous emphasis that the media puts on appearances can cause vulnerable teens to be faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles when it comes to developing and maintaining a healthy sense of self-worth.

Signs of Self-Abasement
Parents will be able to identify their teen as having problems with their self-image by the way they communicate.  A teen that is always putting themselves down, accentuating their negative qualities, or otherwise giving out injurious insults directed toward themselves is more than likely crying out for someone to help them reassess their body image.  When a teen is outwardly expressing negativity about how they look, it is a sure sign to parents that habitual negative thinking patterns are at work tearing down their already fragile self-esteem.

What Parents Can Do
Parents can play an integral role in helping their adolescent achieve a proper perspective regarding body image.  Consider the following points when talking to your teen about body image.
* Parents should help their teen associate attractiveness and beauty with values and good behavior rather than the superficiality of outward appearance.  Find ways to help your teen see that people of all shapes and sizes are beautiful because of what is inside of them.  It can also help to point out the fact that the attitudes of some outwardly attractive people can make them very unattractive, as well as undesirable to be around.
* Accentuate the positive.  Everybody has positive traits and parents should highlight them on a regular basis.  Teens are often so focused on what’s wrong with them that they overlook all of the good qualities that they possess.  Emphasizing value-based characteristics like having a sense of responsibility, being empathetic or possessing trustworthiness will help build your teen from the inside out.
* Teach teens to stop negative thinking.  Challenge your teen to become aware when negativity is creeping in and show them how to employ a simple replacement strategy.  For example, when your teen thinks, “I’m fat”, ask them to identify it and then try replacing it with a more positive affirmation like, “I’m smart”.  This will eventually become habitual just like “I’m fat”, but it will be much more beneficial.

It’s important for teens to understand that the constant barrage of “perfect” media images that they are exposed to is not a depiction of the real world.  Helping your teen appreciate that beauty is more than outward appearance and that reality consists of people of various backgrounds, sizes, shapes, and characteristics, then they will automatically begin to positively adjust their perspective of themselves.

About Melissa J. Murphy

Melissa Murphy is in the business of building self-esteem, instilling confidence, and restoring hope in those who have given up on life. She is currently completing her degree in psychology, and has worked as a life coach and faith-based counselor for more than a decade. By bringing her personal life experiences into her work, Melissa is able to help others survive their wounds, heal their pain, and live a life of success despite having incurred overwhelming emotional scars. For the last few years, she has discovered the joys of writing and has published a growing number of articles. Melissa currently resides in the Houston area with her husband and her two wonderful children.

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