Delivering the Message About Healthy Self-Esteem to Your Teen
Body image is how your view your physical appearance. Self-esteem is how you feel about yourself as a person. They both include positive and negative feelings and can be influenced by society, cultural background, and life experiences. Body image and self-esteem are connected, because the way that you feel about your body can affect the way you feel about yourself as a whole.
Your teenager looks to you for guidance and support. Before launching into a discussion with him or her about body image take stock of your feelings about your own body. What are the first positive/negative feelings you remember having about your own body? What messages do you wish you’d received about body image and self-esteem growing? What do you like best about your body? What are your feelings about diets, eating, exercise and plastic surgery? By exploring these questions consider the verbal and non-verbal messages you may be sending your children and come up with the messages you would like for them to receive about body image and self-esteem.
If you haven’t had a discussion of this nature with your teenager before it’s never too late to start. For younger teenagers aged 12 to 15, consider using age-appropriate language to convey the following messages:
- The size and shape of the penis or breasts does not affect reproductive ability or ability to be a sexual partner
- The size and shape of a person’s body may affect how others feel about and behave toward that person
- People with physical disabilities have the same feelings, needs, and desires as people without disabilities
If you have an older teenager aged 15 to 18, these messages might resonate:
- Physical appearance is only one factor that attracts one person to another
- A person who accepts and feels good about his or her body will seem more likeable and attractive to others
- People are attracted to different physical qualities
It’s important to initiate this conversation, don’t wait until your teen asks questions to address these issues. A great way to do this is to identify “teachable moments”, daily opportunities that occur when you’re with your children and make sharing messages easier. Listen and try to understand your children’s point of view and if you don’t know the answer to something, offer to seek out or help them locate answers. Also find out what school is teaching your kids about these subjects.
No matter your child’s age, discuss that every individual is unique, that there are behaviors related to body image that are healthy and unhealthy, and that the ways in which the media portrays body image can be unrealistic in real life. Most importantly, help them celebrate and appreciate the person that they are and all they have to offer.
Excerpted from SIECUS FAMILIES ARE TALKING Newsletter,Volume 2, Number 4, 2003. Learn more about SIECUS.
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