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How to Help Your Teen with Body Image Issues

Parenting is hard work. If your teen struggles with body image issues, you have probably considered how you can best be supportive. Should you tell them they look good in that outfit? Should you comment on how pretty/handsome they are with regularity? Should you stop talking about their body entirely and talk about their personality or their smile instead? But, will they notice that and take it as a criticism?

If you are perceptive, you probably know it could go either way. If you give them compliments about their body, they could think you are overcompensating. If you don’t give them compliments about their body, they could also think you are judging them.

Where is the happy spot?

I was eating lunch with a friend last week. He has teens and college-aged children. He said, “I’ve learned I like to over control things and then they feel like I don’t support them.” He would troubleshoot with them saying, “Well, have you thought about this? But what are you going to do about that? You know, you need to do this and consider that.” They’d given him the feedback that his helpful suggestions were too much. They took it as criticism and had asked him to stop. Parents often feel so much pressure to DO SOMETHING that they might fill their moments with conversations that imply that adjustments are needed.

That’s the last thing you need to be implying when dealing with body image issues.

Let’s say you and your teen go to a movie and you laugh really hard, so hard that tears come down your face. Your child chose the movie. Your kid sees, “What I AM, my judgment, is valuable.”

Body issues are often a way to remedy a ‘break’ in the connection they feel with others. You want to focus on creating a warm connection and not focus on the body itself.

Maybe your kid is saying to you, “I’m fat” and you say, “Sounds like you are really worrying about your body, that’s hard”. You’ve communicated that you are listening. Good job! Let’s say something inside tells you to follow it with, “I always see you as beautiful,” or, “I’ve never once had the thought you are fat.” If it’s coming from a genuine place, your child will register that. They will hear, “I’m valuable, I’m not fat, oh what a relief!”

If you say, instead, “Well, let’s stop buying so many snack foods and keeping them in the house,” or, “If you are worried about it, start exercising,” your child will hear, “Yep, I’m fat and I need to fix it.” On your own you could stop keeping junk food in the house, if you are worried about it. But do it because you’ve decided to worry about your own eating habits and not theirs.

In many ways, kids need to learn things on their own. They can’t be forced to eat right or exercise three times a week. But you can gently demonstrate it.

It comes down to this: APPRECIATE WHATEVER THERE IS TO APPRECIATE ABOUT YOUR CHILD.

If it’s their music, appreciate it. If it’s their hair and the highlights shining from them, appreciate them. If it’s their sense of humor or their goofy nature, appreciate those things. If it’s the way they always try to make others feel good about themselves, appreciate it.

Notice what’s good right here, right now and say it.

Connection, warmth and working on yourself (not them) go a long way toward helping your child love themselves, their body and their decisions.

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Free Clear Mind Therapy provides in-person therapy in Fishers & Indianapolis and online therapy across Indiana. Specializing in anxiety therapy for teens, adults, and kids.

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