Promoting a healthy body image for tweens and teens

A healthy body image is an important part of a growing teen's self-esteem. Tweens and teens face pressure to meet unrealistic and potentially harmful ideas around beauty and body build, weight, and shape. The quest for an ideal body or appearance can take a toll on kids' confidence as well as their physical and mental health.

Factors that might harm a teenager's body image include natural or expected weight gain, other changes caused by puberty, peer pressure to look a certain way, media images that depict unrealistic or unattainable body ideals, and having a parent who's overly concerned about own weight or appearance.

Teenagers who have negative thoughts about their bodies are at increased risk of low self-esteem, depression, nutrition and growth issues, and eating disorders. Worrying about their bodies and how they measure up can also take away from teenagers' ability to concentrate on other pursuits.

What can parents do to help their child develop and maintain a healthy body image and self-esteem? Allowing communication about their thoughts on body image, modeling and promoting healthy behaviors can help kids feel comfortable with their physical appearance.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Set a good example. Make sure your child knows that you exercise and eat a balanced diet for your health. Think about what you accept on social media, the products you buy, and your choice of words when commenting on other people's appearance.
  • Use positive language. Rather than talking about physical attributes of your child or others, praise personal characteristics such as strength, persistence, and kindness. Avoid pointing out negative physical attributes in others or yourself. Don't make or allow hurtful nicknames, comments, or jokes based on a person's physical characteristics, weight, or body shape.
  • Explain the effects of puberty. Make sure your child understands that appropriate weight gain is a healthy and normal part of development, especially during puberty.
  • Talk about media messages. Encourage your child to question what they see and hear. Praise individuals who are famous for their achievements — not their appearance. For example, read books or watch movies about inspiring people and their perseverance to overcome challenges.
  • Monitor social media use. Teens use social media to share pictures and get feedback. Others' judgments can make teens feel self-conscious about their looks. Set rules for your teen's social media use and offer conversations about what they are posting and viewing.
  • Praise achievements. Look for opportunities to praise effort, skills, and achievements.
  • Promote physical activity. Participating in sports and other physical activities — particularly those that don't emphasize a particular weight or body shape — can help promote good self-esteem and a positive body image. Get involved in activities yourself for your and their benefit.