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Does My Teen Son Have Unhealthy Body Image?

When we talk about body image, self-esteem often comes to mind. Though body image plays a role in self-esteem, it’s not the whole package. Body image refers specifically to how someone feels about the way their body looks.

If someone has a healthy body image, they are happy with the way they look and are comfortable in their body. Conversely, someone with an unhealthy body image would be unhappy with how they look and be self-critical about their appearance.

Even though someone’s self-esteem might be pretty high overall, they could still have an unhealthy body image. Teens with an unhealthy body image often struggle with low self-esteem and low self-confidence as well. When teens lack self-confidence, they are more likely to suffer from depression and social anxiety related to new situations and new people.

At Sundance Canyon Academy, we have experience helping students overcome issues with depression related to low self-esteem. Even though it is not discussed often, many teen boys have an unhealthy body image that leads to depression and an unhealthy lifestyle. If you suspect that your son is using harmful weight management techniques due to an unhealthy body image, he may benefit from attending a boarding school for troubled boys to help instill a sense of self-confidence.

Signs your teen son might have an unhealthy body image

  1. Complaining about the way he looks

  2. Regularly comparing his looks to his peers or celebrities

  3. Focusing on his weight or measurements

  4. Hesitancy to try new activities because of how he looks

When does an unhealthy body image start?

Even in elementary school, children start having concerns with their body image. Nearly 30% of 10-14-year-olds focus on dieting to keep from being fat and nearly half of 9-11-year-olds have at least tried dieting. The fear of being thought of as fat starts surprisingly young. With body image concerns beginning in elementary school, it’s no surprise that those concerns continue into high school and beyond.

Though body image issues tend to affect girls and women more than boys and men, these problems are not gender-dependent. Up to 30% of teen boys admit to using unhealthy weight management techniques to lose weight.

Unhealthy weight management techniques include:

  1. Starvation (skipping meals, not eating enough at meals, etc.)

  2. Vomiting after eating

  3. Abusing laxatives

Statistically, over half of American adults wish that they were thinner—even adults who are a healthy weight report that they would like to be thinner. For many people, these image-based concerns begin in childhood and continue into adulthood. Unfortunately, parents’ body image issues can often be passed down to their children.

Why do children develop an unhealthy body image?

It’s obvious when watching movies or TV that “perfect” bodies are valued over imperfection. From the time they’re little, kids start to learn that they need to look good to be valued in society. Even in school, the popular kids often reflect the same beauty standards promoted in the media.

Kids start to realize that they need to look a certain way to make friends, become popular, and be attractive to their crushes.

At home, children pick up on what they hear from their parents and siblings. If the child’s family is preoccupied with body image, they pick up on it too. As parents, it’s important to note that kids pick up on what we role model more than we tell them. When they see us paying attention to beauty, they learn that physical appearance is what matters.

How to promote healthy body image for your teen

Be aware of your language

Kids pick up on the nuances of what we say. If you’re always talking about wanting to lose weight and needing to go on a diet, they’ll learn that not being skinny is shameful. Rather than focusing solely on looks, focus more on the overall benefits of living a healthy lifestyle.

Avoid diets

Try to incorporate healthy eating habits into your family’s day-to-day life rather than “going on a diet.” Dieting implies a temporary fix to a health problem to look better.

When kids see their parents going on diets or bouncing back and forth between weight-loss fads, they don’t learn to live a healthy lifestyle. Focus more on eating a balanced diet and exercising consistently rather than “dieting.”

Be aware of your actions

Little things like constantly checking the mirror, mentioning your weight, or commenting on other people’s weight can impact your child’s body image. Even if your child is a teenager now, they still notice your actions. Your kids will pick up on your opinion of physical appearance and apply it to themselves as well. When it comes to physical appearance, consider the adage, “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

Seeking help for your son if they have an unhealthy body image

If you see that your teen son has an unhealthy body image and is using harmful weight management techniques, consult a professional therapist. Many teens don’t understand the potential long-term health risks associated with starvation, purposeful vomiting, or abusing laxatives. Those sorts of health risks should be addressed immediately.

Contact us today to find out if a therapeutic boarding school could benefit your son.

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