How Can Parents Positively Affect Their Teens Self-Image

A really great website for parents and teens is Radical Parenting which has “parenting advice written by teens.” One of the resources this site provides is a licensed psychologist, Dr. Allison Agliata, who is an onsite school counselor in Florida. She writes a Q&A section for the website and from time to time provides articles. Recently she wrote an article about “Body Image Awareness for Girls” with some helpful hints to parents on “How to Put Your Parental Influence to Work”

The following are three of Dr. Allison Agliata’s suggestions:

1)   Watch Our Language: Yes, this one is painfully obvious, but not always as easy as we think.  Be careful about the nicknames.  It may seem silly, but I can tell you it is brought up over and over again in therapy sessions.  Save yourself the money and choose a name that is healthy and appropriate!

Try to curb your appearance-related comments.  I know this is not going to eliminate every comment regarding appearance and there may even be times when a, “Wow!  You look amazing!”  is totally appropriate (shall we say prom night?), but on the whole, ensure that your focus is on your child’s character and accomplishments.  Try this on for size, “You must feel great about …ABC (accomplishment).  That shows real …XYZ (character trait).”  After all, isn’t that what we really care about?

2)   Be Active: First and foremost, role model appropriate levels of activity.  Having your children watch you incorporate any kind of physical activity into your daily routine will help them realize it is a priority to you and will help them internalize this message for their future health.  The goal, however, is to be consistent!  If you are constantly battling between forcing yourself to do 2 hours of cardio a day versus doing nothing, the message becomes that exercise is a chore.  Being an extremist makes things complicated and rarely sends the intended message or helps you physically.  If you could find a happy medium of an activity you enjoy and can stick to, the more positive your message will be that this is your chosen healthy lifestyle.

Try choosing an activity that is more in line with something you enjoy, for example a sport you love or walking with a friend so you can socialize.  You are far more likely to keep up a consistent model if you are genuinely benefitting from the activity.   Additionally, this might create some interest from your child, who you could try to include and create quality time with one another…bonus!

3)   Talk Positively about your own Body:  I know, I know.  It seems hardly possible for some of us, but let’s just try it.  Let your kids catch you talking about how good exercise feels, not because it keeps you thin, but because it makes you strong and healthy.  Discuss how confident you feel when you appear professional rather than how pretty you are or are not.  Express appreciation for being able to take an active role in your child’s life when playing with them.  These comments may not come naturally and may seem minute, but with practice they can become affective statements that help alter your child’s self-perception and instill a sense of…wait for it..Self-Satisfaction!  Imagine that!

We asked ACS Executive Director Philippe Rey Psy.D., to review this advice and also give his opinion about how parents can positively affect their children’s self-image and self-esteem.

I strongly agree! As adults and role models parents have to watch their behaviors. For example, being constantly worried about weight loss or gain, or making an issue about each and every bite they put in their mouth might send the wrong message to their children, who may interpret this behavior as a normal way to behave, think and feel.

We should also really think before making statements about the shape or weight of individuals we see on the streets. Again, be aware and conscious of the message you send to your kids about your judgment of others. A sensitive child dealing with body image issues may interpret those comments as being directed at them.

There is a wonderful song from the Sondheim’s musical “Into the Woods” that summarizes it all very well. This song does not just apply to this particular topic but can account for how kids perceive the world through their parent’s feelings, statements, behaviors and emotions: Let us all hum it constantly when around kids and adolescents as a reminder!

Careful the things you say Children will listen

Careful the things you do

Children will see and learn

Children may not obey, but children will listen

Children will look to you for which way to turn

To learn what to be

Careful before you say “Listen to me”

Children will listen!

To learn more about Teen Self-Esteem come to ACS’ seventh “Breaking the Stigma” forum TONIGHT!!

Thursday, February 9, 2012
7pm to 8:30pm
La Entrada Middle School
2200 Sharon Road, Menlo Park, CA 94025
Join Adolescent Counseling Services for another installment of our Breaking the Stigma forum series. This time around we will have a panel of experts to discuss self-esteem in teens. Keynote presenter will be Roni Gillenson, LMFT, ACS On-Campus Counseling Program Director. This event is free to the public. Children, parents and community members are encouraged to attend. Click here to read the event press release

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