Social media has changed so much in the last decade. People are reconnecting with high school friends on Facebook, keeping up with the daily activities of friends on Twitter, and sharing the story of their lives through images on Instagram. Social media has given us a lot of beauty, but it has also opened new wounds for teenagers struggling with body image. Here is what you need to know to help your child!
1. Know it can happen to anyone
Body image struggles can happen to girls or boys at any age. Although most cases we see in the media are teenage girls, these struggles do not discriminate based on age, gender, or background. It is also not your fault if your child struggles. Although it is easy to believe if you were just more encouraging, or less distant, or more of this, or less of that, maybe your teen would not feel that way. Do not fall into that trap! It can happen to anyone, and focusing on your own impact or lack thereof will not help your child. Instead, focus on listening to them and how you can help now and in the future.
2. Know the factors at play
Social media brings about a whole new round of factors that can impact your child’s body image. On Instagram there are hashtags that can connect teens who are looking for affirmation – and provide an easy way for cyberbullies to find them and tear them down. On Snapchat, teens can see how many snaps have been sent or received, and there are emojis that show how they rank compared to the friend they are snapping. There are constantly new platforms and methods coming up, so it is important to stay aware of what is going on in your teen’s online world. There are also lots of ways to edit photos, giving an “illusion of control” because people can alter their appearance in the photos they post. Thinner or thicker, more or less makeup, and even changing facial structure are all options. While there is something to be said for the harmless fun of puppy filters and trying crazy makeup with a free app, as the parent it is crucial you have open conversations with your teen about where editing changes from fun and silly to harmful.
3. Emphasize feeling and being healthy instead of looking perfect
This is one area where you can play offensive instead of defensive to help your child! Do not wait for poor body image to start teaching your child about living a healthy lifestyle, even if it does not result in a “perfect body.” Starting them with a healthy lifestyle as early as elementary school can get them on the right track, especially if exercise is a family activity. When they see you leaving self-consciousness behind in favor of exercise and healthy food, they will be likely to follow!