If you’ve been listening to the Teen Life Podcast this summer, then you know that I had a heartbreaking encounter with a group of middle school girls earlier this year.
When I asked, “How good do you feel about yourself?”, I was met with overwhelmingly negative responses. I listened as each girl told me stories about how their self-esteem had been damaged by hurtful words, unmet expectations, or unfair comparisons.
I’ll be honest. It is rare to get a group of 13 teenagers to completely agree, but when it came to self-esteem and body image, they were all on the same page.
When I did some research, I found that body image issues can start as young as the age of three. This makes me incredibly sad as someone who loves teenagers and is also parenting toddlers.
But is there anything we can do to help? We know that self-esteem and body image is impacted by so many factors. To name a few, a teenager’s view of themself can be framed by family, culture, social media, television or movies, ads, and comparison to others.
While I don’t believe that there is an easy fix, we MUST take more of an active role in combatting this self-esteem issue. Here are some tips that I think would be a great place to start!
Change the way we talk about eating and exercise.
Let’s normalize talking about eating healthy and getting stronger instead of dieting and losing weight. Teenagers often come across ads and media that talk about the pill that will help you drop 30 pounds, or the workout program that will help you get your summer body, or the detox smoothie that will get rid of bloating. Our teenagers are constantly told that they have to eat or move a certain way to improve the way they look.
But what if we taught our kids to eat balanced and get moving to simply feel good? What if we encouraged them to listen to what their bodies need instead of pushing a “clean plate” or “restrictive eating” mentality?
This summer, I challenge you to invite your teenagers into food and exercise conversations. Educate them on healthy and appropriate choices. Cook together and eat a variety of foods – sweets, vegetables, fruit, pizza, and everything in between!
Take the focus off appearance.
It is easy (and honestly, sometimes lazy) to give compliments on outside appearances.
“I love your hair!” “That’s a cute dress!” “Have you been working out?” “You look great!”
A stranger could come up with one of those statements! That is why it is so important to praise characteristics that have nothing to do with appearance. We need teenagers to know that they are more than how they look on the outside.
I want you to look for one way to praise your teenagers every day for a week. No cheating – make sure you are praising an internal characteristic they possess! It could be their bravery, kindness, humor, resiliency, generosity, or joy. Make them feel seen and loved, no matter how they look!
Consider a social media feed detox.
The Dove Self-Esteem Project recently found that 1 in 2 girls say idealized beauty content on social media causes low self-esteem. That is 50%!!
We all know that our teens spend a significant amount of time on social media every day. I would encourage you to watch this short film from Dove on the Toxic Influence of social media. They also have another short video guide to Detox Your Feed.
Look at the social media feeds of your teens. Have conversations about what they are seeing and if they think it is making them feel better or worse about themselves. So much of what we see on social media is filtered, photoshopped, and fake. Make sure teens know that they are comparing themselves to unrealistic (and often toxic) goals.
After you have gone through their feed together, come up with a plan for who they should consider unfollowing, muting, or blocking. The accounts they engage with the most will shape what they see more of, especially for apps like TikTok!
Practice what you preach.
When I was sitting in that group of middle school girls, it was really easy to be shocked by how they were talking about themselves, but don’t I do the same thing? If we want teenagers to change the way they think and talk about themselves, we have to be willing to do that hard work as well.
Pay attention to the way you talk about yourself and your relationship with your body. Focus on desiring more energy instead of just trying to fit into a smaller pair of jeans. Or put on that swimsuit and get in the pool. Take pictures and post them without adding a whole bunch of filters!
If we want our teenagers to stop comparing themselves and become less self-conscious, we need to lead the way!
Employ positive self-talk.
Along those lines, we all need to use better self-talk and encourage our teens to do the same. Maybe this could look like talking to yourself out loud around your teen or walking them through your thinking process.
It could look like this: “I am thinking about changing because I don’t love the way my arms look in this shirt. But I actually think I look really good in this outfit! I especially love the color, so I am going to rock this today!”
This also might look like confronting teens when you hear them talk negatively about themselves. Don’t dismiss their negativity, but take the time to have a conversation about what they are thinking and feeling! Not only does this interrupt that thought process for them, but it also shows that you see them and care.
Do you think these tips would help you or your teen? Self-esteem is vital for our teens to thrive and appreciate themselves for who they are – no changes needed! Sign me up for a world full of confident and brave teenagers!