We have all experienced the turbulence of adolescence. In fact, when you read that, I am sure many flashbulbs memories came to mind. Some were likely positive, but other teen experiences may have been more related to the overwhelming feelings of confusion and change that came with that season of life.
For teens, everything around and inside of them seems to be changing faster than they can keep up, leading to a lot of identity confusion and uncertainty.
While they may attempt to appear as if they know everything or don’t care what adults think, they are still looking to you to learn how they should behave, respond, and react. This gives you a prime opportunity to be the person that teaches them.
Teens and Body Confidence
From social media to television, advertisements, and film, teens are getting messages everywhere to alter themselves and their bodies. Adolescents in this generation are more inundated than any before them regarding what is considered a “valuable” appearance, trait, or skill and what is not according to diet culture and a warped societal standard.
Advertisers learned long ago to market to teens because, as their cognitions mature, “there is an increased awareness of societal pressures for thinness and an increased concern about peer acceptance .” That’s right; advertisers are aware of how vulnerable adolescents are and using this to make money.
Teens are purposely being taught that there are aspects of them that they need to change and that their only hope for self-confidence, love, and success hinge on making these changes. With this, it is no wonder that the onset of disordered eating thoughts and behaviors is between early-puberty to late-adolescence .
As an adult that engages with teens, this can be infuriating, but you have more power than you think to contribute to a generation that views things differently.
A Golden Opportunity
As a model for your child, athlete, student, family member, etc., you have an incredible opportunity. Many of us can recall the messages given to us or the behaviors modeled to us as children and teens that became our negative self-talk around our bodies, appearance, and worth.
Studies show that, even as teens become more concerned with acceptance from peers, maternal and familial beliefs and behaviors about the body, weight, food, and appearance are key contributors to disordered eating behaviors.
You have an incredible opportunity to use this dynamic for good. Modeling body love, self-confidence, and identity statements based on who you are, not what you look like, can instill these behaviors in teens looking for direction on how to feel about themselves.
Listen, Listen, Listen…Then Talk
Reassuring the teen in your life that they can love themselves just as they are, involves being vigilant of moments that their language shows diet culture messaging and taking these moments to listen and teach.
Your child will say things that are concerning or clearly messages from social media and diet culture. Use these moments to talk with them about what they are learning from school, social media, television, and society. Ask them questions about what they believe and how they feel.
Even asking questions about the media itself can teach your teen to be a conscious consumer that doesn’t simply believe what they are being sold but considers the reality of images and expectations they see.
Opening a consistent dialogue with your teen gives them the opportunity to express how hard it is, feel understood, and work through what they really believe, think, or feel. Advertisers are using the vulnerability of teens to make them question their worth based on appearance.
You have the opportunity to honor that vulnerability and the trust they have in you by modeling positive self-talk, teaching confident body image, and exploring these areas in a way that keeps them safe and helps them to love themselves and their bodies.
Resources: Cerniglia, L., et al. (2017). Family profiles and eating disorders: family functioning and psychopathology. Psychology Research and Behavior Management, 10.
About the Author:
Margot Rittenhouse, MS, PLPC, NCC is a therapist who is passionate about providing mental health support to all in need and has worked with clients with substance abuse issues, eating disorders, domestic violence victims, and offenders, and severely mentally ill youth.
As a freelance writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope and a mentor with MentorConnect, Margot is a passionate eating disorder advocate, committed to de-stigmatizing these illnesses while showing support for those struggling through mentoring, writing, and volunteering. Margot has a Master’s of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Johns Hopkins University.
The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.
We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.
Published October 15, 2020, on EatingDisorderHope.com
Reviewed & Approved on October 15, 2020, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC