This article explores the importance of teenage self-esteem and body image.
There always appears to be a lot of information about self-esteem and teenagers, but do we ever really explain to teenagers what self-esteem, self-image and body image really are? The following article includes how to explain these important concepts to your teenagers as well as advice and tips for you to support the development of their self-esteem.
In this article:
Teenagers are going through substantial physical and emotional development, and this can impact their self-image and how they feel about themselves.
With all these changes, it is understandable that many teens will experience confusion and insecurity, so self-esteem is an important topic for fathers of teenagers to talk about.
There is clear evidence that fathers can have a distinct impact on their teenager’s self-esteem. In particular for girls, where fathers have been shown to have more impact on a daughter’s self-esteem than mothers do.
As a girl moves into adolescence with her changing and maturing body, fathers need to be cautious about comments and attitudes about body image, even if it meant as a joke.
There is also growing concern around self-esteem and young males and fathers can be a positive role model and support for healthy body image and self-esteem for their sons.
A young person with healthy self-esteem is more likely to display positive behavioural characteristics and have healthy relationships with their peers, while they are less likely to be involved in unhealthy or undesirable behaviours.
How does self-esteem work?
Self-esteem is a combination of our thoughts about our self-image, what is important to us, and feedback from others.
Self-image is our thoughts and ideas about how we see ourselves now in all the different areas of our life.
“What can I do? What am I good at? What are my strengths?”
We look at our features, abilities, strengths and talents in common image areas such as:
What is important to me?
We all compare how we see ourselves in a particular image area with what importance we place on this area. When there is a good balance between how we see ourselves and the importance we place on this particular area we usually feel good about ourselves.
What does LOW self-image look like?
Sometimes people have a low self-image in an area of their life that they believe is very important. For example: A boy thinks he is no good at sport – but sport is very important to him. This can result in him having low self-esteem.
What does HIGH self-image look like?
Sometimes people have a high self-image in a particular area but believe that this area of their life is not important. For example: A girl was really good at netball but didn’t think sport was as important as schoolwork. This girl’s self-esteem might be fine if she was also doing well at school. However, if she was not doing so well and judging herself only on her schoolwork this may make her self-esteem suffer.
“What do other people think of me?”
We all have people in our lives that we feel are important. These people are usually:
We add the feedback from these people to the feed to our own thoughts about ourselves, plus what is important to us to get our self-esteem.
Signs of low self-esteem may include:
How can parents help?
Sometimes parents are confused as to why their teenager is showing signs of low self-esteem and yet appear to be doing well in everything at school or at sport etc.
How can you support healthy self-esteem?
Teenagers undergo and have to cope with numerous physical changes. Plus, we know that teenagers are usually very concerned with their physical appearance and what other people their own age think of them. This leads to teenagers being sensitive and vulnerable to body image worries.
At this age young people can be over critical of themselves and may feel they are too fat, too skinny, too tall or too short. This feeling can lead them to spend time wishing they were different.
When they don’t like something about themselves, it can result in self-esteem and body image problems. At this age young people can be over critical of themselves, plus teens are also more prone to thinking that others, particularly their peers, view them as they view themselves.
If teenagers who are going through many physical changes are comparing themselves to unrealistic images of people from social media, TV or in movies, there is a huge amount of pressure to live up to those images.
This has been an ongoing issue over time for girls, but we are now seeing that more and more boys are being impacted by the pressures of online image and the poor body image.
While many girls are influenced by images of celebrity women’s shapes and figures and flawless skin, boys are often comparing themselves to muscular male athletes and action heroes.
Even though these influencers are often older men and women, this comparison can leave many teenagers feeling dissatisfied with their own bodies.
Body image and teasing
Bullying and teasing about appearance and sexuality can become a problem at this age if teenagers are not made aware of their attitudes, behaviours and how they can affect others.
It seems that it is also the early-developing girls and the late-developing boys who may be most at risk of bullying during this developmental stage.
Boys who are still developing are generally smaller is stature and appear more vulnerable to ridicule and bullying.
Early developing girls are very prone to teasing and unwanted comments about their appearance. Issues about body image and appearance are very sensitive topics particularly to girls at this stage in their development.
Parents also need to be aware what might have been meant as a light-hearted comment about a teenager’s body shape or size can be very hurtful and create much anxiety.
Comments like “She is carrying a bit of puppy fat” or “He is so small compared to his class-mates” can be cause for great concern for your child. This is time of increased sensitivity about body growth and shape.
Top Tips for supporting your teens healthy body image
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