Teen Body Image: Can You Make a Difference?
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When it comes to the media, Photoshopping is practically an industry standard in the modeling and entertainment business. Nearly anyone pictured on a magazine cover is impossibly perfect. As teen girls gush over guys and stay up-to-date on pop culture, body image has naturally become another thing to worry about.
When your teen's role models include super-tanned New Jersey natives or performers who wear little more than lingerie on-screen, there could be a problem. By understanding the relationship between body image and the media, you better understand how she's affected by what she sees on TV and in celebrity magazines.
Even if you think your teen's self-esteem is unscathed, check out the facts: the University of Minnesota points out that 50 to 88 percent of teen girls feel negatively about their body and 85 percent of girls worry "a lot" about their appearance. By the numbers, there's a pretty good chance that your own child is struggling with her appearance, so put the issue on your radar.
- Monitor media consumption. Kids and teens watch over four hours of TV a day and consume up to 10 hours of media on a daily basis, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation: do you know what your teen is watching? Tune in to her favorite MTV reality show or thumb through a magazine together. Check out the latest Hollywood gossip on People.com and listen to what her friends are saying to give you a better idea about what's "in" right now. Checking out shows, magazines and websites lets you speak your daughter's language—so when it comes time to talk, you don't play the part of the clueless parent.
- Talk to your teen. Open the floor to her so you can talk about media honestly. Don't make the conversation formal and awkward; let it happen organically while checking out a music video together or eating dinner. Learning more about who your teen worships gives you a better idea of what body issues she might face. If she's gaga over Lady Gaga, talk about the way superskinny stars are pressured to stay svelte in the industry.
- Look for positive role models. Point your teen in the right direction by checking out websites and magazines that focus on more than being skinny and famous. Teen Voices magazine preaches against boy-craziness and low self-esteem as an alternative to fashion magazines. Or, try to get her interested in sports and physical activities, since teens involved in sports report higher self-esteem, according to a 2010 Academic Pediatrics study.
- Practice what you preach. It's great to explain to your daughter that her favorite pop star has a team of beauty experts that make her look perfect, but it's preaching to the choir if you struggle with self-image issues too. California-based psychologist Carol Francis warns that "We have lost sight of the beauty of health in pursuit of the artificial image of the Greek Goddess or size 00 models. More serious, we endanger the emotional and physical well-being of teenage girls." If you can't avoid your own comparison issues, try taking a break from reading fashion and gossip websites or consider swapping TV time for healthier activities, like hiking as a family or reading your favorite book.
- Offer realistic compliments. Obviously you think your teen is the most beautiful girl in the world, but that type of compliment is easily broken down by a teen's low self-esteem. Instead, offer specific compliments, like commenting on her healthy hair, and include praise that isn't appearance-based. "Parents need to compliment their children is a sincere way, pointing out the inner and outer beauty of their children," says Len Saunders, author of "Keeping Kids Fit" and child fitness expert. "These little 'self-esteem' deposits carry a lot of weight over an extended period of time."
- Know the warning signs of a problem. If your daughter's appearance changes suddenly, you notice an extreme preoccupation with weight or she obsesses over the perfection of Hollywood stars, it could be the sign of a serious problem, such as an eating disorder. Talk to your teen's doctor if you're concerned and do what you can to limit her exposure to unrealistic images and ideals through the media.
Photoshopped pictures shouldn't make or break your teen's self-image, so pay attention when she talks about her favorite actors and singers. By pointing out how celebrities always stay picture-perfect—with the help of trainers, stylists, plastic surgeons, makeup artists and photographers—your teen girl knows what's real and what's not in the industry. Bond together away from the TV, and you'll find you have the parental power to control some of your teen's media consumption, so she holds on to a healthy body image and realistic ideas about the pusuit of perfection.
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