“I’m getting fat, mom.”
“My ankles are too big.”
“Look at the rolls on my stomach when I sit down.”
“My face is too fat.”
“I’m too short. I hate being so short.”
I have a teen son and a teen daughter and these quotes aren’t from my girl, they are from my son.
He is a handsome boy, who is incredibly athletic and active in many sports. If you saw him, you’d think he was in great shape, but he is a perfectionist and that hardline thinking is damaging and dangerous to any kid. He picks apart all the things he feels are imperfect about him and although he isn’t consumed by it all, it’s clear he is not at peace with his body either. He has yet to hit puberty, which is a difficult reality to live next to his friends who have begun the drastic changes that puberty provides.
Our kids face a myriad of issues as they grow up and their bodies hit puberty and change. Sometimes their development occurs rapidly, while other times, the changes happen so slowly, they wonder when their bodies will catch up with the rest of their peers. As they enter adolescence, they can become insecure, while they constantly compare themselves with other kids, scrutinizing all they see wrong with how they look.
Children’s opinions of their bodies form at a very young age. While much attention has been focused on body image issues with growing girls, we rarely hear about our boys experiencing the same problems.
Boys often act differently than girls. They may seem tough and less worried about their appearance on the outside, but they can be just as insecure about their physical features and have low self-esteem underneath their detached exterior. They have the same inner voice that criticizes everything they don’t like about themselves and they have the relentless desire to be perfect too.
While our kids face many new issues as they grow up, often their appearance is at the center of it all. As children get older, they soon realize there are physical aspects about themselves that they like and other aspects they don’t. They are beginning the journey of discovering who they are and how they look is a critical piece of their identity.
The problem for most kids is that they are sensitized into thinking they need to look perfect to fit in. We can thank our current culture and media for that. They are growing up as the “Selfie Generation” because they are constantly exposed to filtered perfect images while scrolling on their phones every day.
They are obsessed with presenting similar unblemished photos to keep up with the masses and for some, they’ll do anything to look as perfect as they possibly can. But no matter how hard they try; they constantly feel defeated and discouraged because they are attempting to reach an unobtainable goal.
Parents can play a critical role in helping their children develop a healthy body image. If your child says negative things about their body, make sure not to dismiss those statements. They desperately need your validation and encouragement. Don’t brush their self criticisms off with a quick compliment or tell them it’s nonsense to think that way.
Instead, help them identify their natural features they can be proud of while counseling them on how they see those other areas of concern.
Are they being too critical of themselves?
Are their opinions distorted and untrue?
Help them develop a more accurate and healthy view of their physical features with truth and facts because often, they are comparing themselves to the countless facades that surround them.
It’s important to pay attention to your kids when they share critical opinions of their appearance and watch for signs they may be altering their eating significantly, exercising too much, or isolating from social activities. If they seem consumed with how their bodies look, you may need to seek professional help for them. Eating disorders and depression are some of the many mental health issues that can develop in our kids that require immediate attention.
The key is for our children to understand that no one is perfect and everyone else has this delicate balance of things they like and don’t like about themselves. I always tell my kids they were each born with unique strengths that are designed to create a purposeful and fulfilling life. I remind them often that everyone has flaws and feelings like they do. We all want to improve certain physical aspects of ourselves, even those people they consider to be better looking than them.
It’s okay for them to assess their strengths and weaknesses and seek to improve the latter, but it’s not okay to let their opinions impact the whole of who they are. Parents can help their kids concentrate on their strengths and guide them in taking appropriate actions on improving physical traits they can work on, like setting up a healthy diet and exercise program. Addressing their body image issues is an important part of teaching our kids how to care for their bodies with healthy expectations and acceptance.
Most importantly, we need to make sure the attention placed on physical appearance isn’t a priority in our family’s lives. Living a life that is focused on more significant values like personal relationships, embracing unique personality traits and growing interests and activities each family member is involved in, will instill a sense of worth that is not bound by a body type, but rather immersed in those aspects of life that are most important.
My 16-year-old daughter has struggled with body image issues for years. I’ve constantly listened to her complaints and validated her feelings while encouraging her to focus on all her physical strengths and abilities, instead of being consumed by those critical thoughts about certain details of her body that she doesn’t like. She has so many gifts and I continue to help her focus on those assets while she develops interests and future dreams that have nothing to do with her physical appearance, but everything to do with her skills and natural talents. She still struggles with some physical features that she wishes she could change, but she has learned to accept some things she can’t change and focus her attention on the positive attributes she has. She’s begun to believe they are worth celebrating.
Enter her younger brother who will go down the same path on his own journey toward self-discovery, acceptance, and I hope with all my heart- a celebration of how special he truly is.
Our kids need to learn that although they may struggle to like certain parts of their bodies, they are created with incredible gifts- both physical features and personality traits that are strengths they need to celebrate and embrace as their own. If we acknowledge this truth and draw attention to all their amazing naturally born talents regularly, they just might start believing that they don’t need to be perfect to be happy with who they are.
This is a contributed post by Christine Carter. She writes at TheMomCafe.com, where she hopes to encourage mothers everywhere through her humor, inspiration, and faith. Her work is published on several various online publications and she is the author of “Help and Hope While You’re Healing: A woman’s guide toward wellness while recovering from injury, surgery, or illness.” and “Follow Jesus: A Christian Teen’s Guide to Navigating the Online World”. Both sold on Amazon.
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