Body image, mental health and teenagers

We ran a national survey in March, What’s Wrecking Your Head? and 2,500 teenagers across Ireland responded. 72% of those who took part named body image as a cause of stress.

Body imageBody image actually came third in the list, after school and exams, as causes of stress.

What is body image?

Body image is a person’s attitude towards their body.

There’s no question that concerns about body image can have an impact on mental health.

Appearance concerns

We are living in a world where women and men are appraised for their looks and people’s self-esteem is closely linked to their body image.

Worries about appearance can be all-consuming, concerning many things including teeth, skin, weight, height, body hair or build.

These can be particularly strong for young people, as they can feel pressure to conform to certain way of looking.

What can parents do to encourage positive body image?

Watch ‘body-shaming’ language

Young people can pick up negative or positive associations about their (or others’) body from home. Try not to dwell on negative terms like ‘fat’ or ‘too skinny’ when describing people.

‘Model’ positive body image

Be mindful of how you look at yourself and talk about yourself physically. ‘Modeling’ in this case means how you illustrate positive body image by how you behave towards yourself and this can have a huge impact.

Celebrate difference

When young people just ‘want to be like everyone else’ they may not appreciate their differences and it can be a tricky and stressful time for them. We are all different, which is a good thing and help them realise this.

Know who they admire

Discuss the different trends your son or daughter is following. It’s good to know what’s going on in their lives anyway, but knowing who they are fans of means you can explore some of the things they’re trying to copy, in a casual way.

Young people will be influenced by celebrities and their peers and there’s no harm in that. But, knowing who they’re aiming for can help you have realistic conversations.

Encourage activity

If young people get involved at a young age and continue to stay involved in sporting activities, they develop an appreciation for what their body can do and not just how it looks.

More than looks

Remind your son or daughter (and yourself) they are a person of value with opinions, experiences, ideas, emotions, likes, dislikes, fears and loves. They are more than the sum of their looks and should learn to not reduce others of that too.

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