As kids start to mature mentally and physically, it’s natural for them to take greater interest in how they look. This is especially true during their preteens and teens when their bodies experience puberty. These big changes can affect self-esteem and could have negative consequences. Explore the factors that influence body image in preteens and teens, and learn how to help your children like, appreciate and feel grateful for their bodies.

Healthy Body Image
It may feel like yesterday that you had to encourage your daughter to take a bath, comb her hair or brush her teeth. But now that she’s a preteen, she spends several hours in front of the bathroom mirror. When your child goes through puberty, it can seem like she’s obsessed with looks. But puberty affects much more than outward appearance – body image goes through just as big of a transformation. Looks comprise a large part of self-image, but your child is focused on appearance for good reasons:

  • Adjusting to a new reflection
  • Experimenting with and establishing style
  • Discovering how to fit in

As your child matures, they will also develop a more complex self-image that incorporates more than the mirror. Growing up means defining talents, interests, values and aspirations. Just remember that focus on appearance is a normal part of becoming a teenager.

Body Image and Boys
It's important to acknowledge that girls aren’t the only teens that get obsessed with looks in their formative years. Boys may not speak up about it, but they worry about their looks, too. Whether it’s examining muscle development or shaving those first few whiskers, boys spend equally long in front of the bathroom mirror.

Feeling Self-Critical
Feeling good about how you look can be challenging at any age, but it’s especially difficult for preteens and teens. It’s common for teens to compare themselves with peers or even celebrities, which may have an impact on confidence. Your child may fall in with certain cliques as they develop their sense of self, but peer pressure can actually make teens feel self-conscious. Excessive criticism prompted by low self-esteem could even cause eating disorders.

An extreme problem with body image, body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) involves obsessions and compulsions pertaining to real or imaginary imperfections in appearance. Like other obsessions, BDD can interfere with a teen's well-being, so reach out to a doctor or mental health professional if you're concerned about BDD behavior in your son or daughter.

A Matter of Confidence
Navigating these changes takes a lot of patience, and plenty of support from friends and family. Here are five tips to help support your teen during this often frustrating time.

1. Be supportive.
Dealing with change can be difficult for preteens and parents, but try not to get frustrated or overly concerned. Be accepting and supportive instead of drawing negative attention or criticism, which can make teens feel even more self-conscious.

2. Give compliments.
Help build a healthy body image with positive reinforcement, including plenty of compliments. And don’t just focus on looks. Provide reassurance about other important qualities like hard work and wiliness to help others to keep looks in perspective.

3. Encourage self-expression.
Help kids think more deeply about appearances by encouraging them to express themselves, whether that’s dressing a certain way or trying new things.

4. Set boundaries.
Try to be patient, but don’t be afraid to set boundaries. Reasonable boundaries on time spent grooming and dressing can be constructive if your child becomes a bit too obsessive.

5. Be a role model.
How you talk about yourself sets a powerful example for your teen. If you complain about your looks, it teaches your kids to be just as critical of themselves.

Parents play an important part in pediatrics, but help is always close to home. Learn more about the expert care at Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children.