Help Your Preteen Have a Healthy Body Image
Are you amazed at how much time your preteen son or daughter spends in front of the bathroom mirror? Rest assured you’re not the only parent watching this change in behavior. As your child grows into her adolescent body -- with all its dramatic changes -- it’s not uncommon to be obsessed with appearance and body image. As these changes occur, you’ll want to help your budding teenager maintain a healthy body image.
What’s a healthy body image? It means that most of your feelings, ideas, and opinions about your body and appearance are positive. It means accepting and appreciating your body and feeling mostly satisfied with your appearance.
Manage the Impact of Media Madness
At the same time your child is growing more aware of her body, she’s also bombarded with images of thin people on TV, in movies, and in magazines. Even though most fashion models weigh 23 percent less than the average female, many young girls idealize the thin model body type. In one study, most girls reported that the appearance of models in magazines influences their image of a perfect female body, and 47 percent wanted to lose weight because of such magazine pictures.
How can you compete with the media barrage? Try watching TV, going to the movies, and reading magazines with your daughter, and talk about the images you see. Ask her questions like: “Does that model look real? Do people really look like that?” Ask your child's school to incorporate media literacy -- lessons that teach students to ask questions, analyze carefully, and be critical consumers of media -- as part of the school’s curriculum.
6 Tips for Raising a Preteen with a Healthy Body Image
- Be supportive and give compliments. Telling your daughter how great she looks will help build a positive body image. Tell her also how you love her smile, her laugh, her accomplishments, and how considerate she is of others. It’s important she knows that her image includes more than her body. Acknowledge that it can be hard to accept and love one’s body but it’s important to be able to do just that.
- Be a role model. It’s not just about what you eat but how you talk about food and your own body. Try not to make negative comments about your own body. Your kids are listening! Too much talk about dieting can make them think they need to diet, too. In the long run, establishing healthy eating patterns is a better bet than erratic dieting and binge-eating.
- Promote healthy eating habits. In our busy lives, it’s sometimes difficult to make time for healthy meals together, but the payoff is worth the effort. Eating healthy meals together gives you the opportunity to talk with your kids about healthy choices, as well as what’s going on at school and in their social life.
- Set limits. Although it’s normal for your preteen to hog the bathroom and spend a lot of time worrying about appearance, it’s also important for her to be aware of the needs of other family members, and make time for chores and other interests, too.
- Be aware of peer pressure. Adolescents are very aware of their friends―how they dress and what they think. Dressing a certain way may help your preteen feel like she fits in with the cool kids.
- Watch for signs of an eating disorder. If your child is too focused on her body image, she may become overly concerned about her weight, restricting food or exercising excessively. These can all be signs of an eating disorder. Talk to her doctor if you notice any of these signs.
Convey Positive Body Image Messages to Your Preteen
Here are some positive messages you can use to start a discussion with your preteen about body image:
- There’s no perfect body type. People come in all shapes and sizes.
- Being different makes each of us who we are.
- All bodies are special.
- Bodies grow and change a lot during puberty.
- A person’s value isn’t determined by her appearance.
Your preteen may shut the door and want to be left alone, but when you take the opportunity to discuss movies, magazines, and the influence of her peers, you can help her navigate this ever-changing time in her life. She’ll then be on her way to embracing a healthy body image.
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