According to niddk.nih.gov, young people from the ages of two years through nineteen years, the obesity rate has skyrocketed to over 31% In a society whose media is crazed by ultra-thin models, actors, and Instagram stars, this means one of every three teens you meet is at risk for weight-related issues around self-esteem and body image. Given the toll taken by carrying excess weight, it’s as crucial to counteract the emotional strain of obesity, as it is to drop a few pounds.
What Is The Difference Between Body Image and Self-Esteem?
Put simply, self-esteem refers to the sense of inherent internal worthiness a person perceives him or herself to possess. Body image refers to the way they perceive their body, regardless of how it may appear to outside observers. This explains why people who are clearly in excellent condition may feel very critical about their bodies, whereas others, whose physical condition may not appear very healthy, can have extremely high levels of confidence about their physiques.
How Can I Tell Whether My Teen Has A Weight-Related Self-Esteem Problem
Parents and loved ones are often horrified to notice their once-confident teen has slipped into low self-esteem. Teens’ bodies change rapidly, and they face extreme pressure from both peers and the media to look a certain way. As they change schools and peer groups, formerly happy-go-lucky kids may suddenly display clear signs of discontent such as:
• Scrutinizing themselves in the mirror for extended lengths of time
• Excessively negative, criticism of specific body regions
• Comparison to other teens or celebrities
• Anxiety around leaving the home
• Signs of depression/anxiety, like sleeping more or less than normal, withdrawal from social engagements, malaise, or changes in grades
Jump Start The Recovery Process
So much of the teenage years is centered around creating social norms and a coherent sense of self. This sense of self will follow a young person into adulthood, and inform much of how they make pivotal choices and relate to others. That makes it incredibly important and productive to intervene as soon as possible. Helping teens to turnaround self-esteem and body issues will give them healthy physical habits as well as emotional resilience. Luckily, even the most rebellious teenager craves guidance, encouragement, and resources. Use the following steps at home, and you’ll not only improve teens’ physical and emotional well-being, you’ll reinforce the foundations of your relationship.
It Starts With You
Teenagers are more interested in what you do than what you tell them. Do you obsess about your appearance? Become upset when you aren’t satisfied with how you look in the mirror? Your teen is learning how to react to her own appearance by watching your example. Be mindful of more than how you look. Pay attention to how you look at yourself, and how you act toward yourself when you do.
Teens listen more than they let on. One of the things they soak up like sponges is the manner in which their role models talk about themselves. A young man who hears his father lamenting, “ Ugh. I hate my chest. This gutt is awful. I just have never liked the way I’m built. I guess I have your grandparents to blame for these ugly genes!” will certainly find himself looking at his body in the mirror, cursing his DNA. A young girl who hears her mother saying, “I just look so fat in these pants. I’m embarrassed to leave the house” will look into the mirror at her own image and wonder if she should stay home if she looks a little bloated.
Parents can change this feedback loop of negative self-talk by saying things like, “ I may have gained a few pounds, but I actually like how strong I look!” or “You know, it’s actually kind of nice to be filling out this dress a little differently!” Even better, saying things like, “I love myself at any weight. This body does a lot for me” can convey to your teen that she is also beautiful and productive at any weight.
Emphasize Health Over Weight Loss
The Oxford Health Journal confirms that weight management programs for children and teens may do more harm than good. Focusing on weight seems to chip away at a whole-person standard self-worth in children. Furthermore, according to NBC, even after losing weight, many girls continue to see themselves as overweight. In other words, a few pounds may drop, but negative body image remains. This is a clear indicator that we must all work on the inside first, building self-love that fosters healthy eating and exercise habits.
Move For Joy
When a person appreciates what their body can do, it’s hard not to love the body that does it. A loved body will be cherishes and maintained, making improved health a natural side effect. One of the quickest way to achieve this is through movement. Calories are burned and endorphins are released for relaxation and happiness. It’s a combination that makes movement a top tool for achieving whole-person health. In kids, this can be as easy as dancing, or adopting a yoga practice. Yoga, with its emphasis on non-judgmental approaches to individual bodies and internal balance, is of particular usefulness. Even severely overweight teens can put a mat down in a bedroom, throw on yoga tanks and a pair of shorts, and start.