Social media -- Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat -- and celebrities have created a highly-charged 24/7 cycle of unrealistic body images that your teen may aspire to. Dysmorphia, a condition in which there is dissatisfaction with body appearance, is on the rise as your teen struggles to reach perfection. In fact, in a study by the Keep It Real Campaign, 80 percent of all 10-year-old, American girls have been on a diet.
Because the body changes dramatically in adolescence, teens are often self-conscious and embarrassed. Peer-group socialization has tremendous power over your teen and can influence not only your child's self-esteem, but also body image. Self-criticism has become a fluid part of online media, with your teen using their online friends for validation, acceptance, and judgement. Factor into this scenario celebrity advertisements, models, TV and movies, in which bodies are air-brushed and preteens are used in adult advertisements without the "burden" of body fat or wrinkles... and you can see how difficult it is for your teen to maintain a balanced and healthy body image. In fact, this impossible and improbable media-driven body image realistically fits only a small percentage of the population of boys and girls... and yet, it is the criteria by which your teen measures herself.
Because your teen has only her peer group for feedback, she can easily slip into unhealthy strategies to maintain a consumer-driven physique. Behaviors such as starvation, vomiting and over-exercising can all lead to emotional damage, physical injury and even death.
Dying to be thin in our celebrity-driven culture has become prevalent not only with your daughters and sons, but also with your friends and relatives, including other mothers. Candice Bergen in her book A Fine Romance mentions that her adult friends are still vomiting to keep thin. Such pressure, especially on your teen, who is lacking coping skills and self-validation, can lead to problems like anorexia, bulimia, and body dysmorphia, which can take years of therapy to address.
How Parents Can Help
- Continue being there for your child, as parent and guide. Don't underestimate the importance of parental influence as an inoculation against peer group pressure and celebrity socialization. The values that you have instilled in your child while she is young can and will support her during her teen years.
- Gather around the dinner table. Families that have their meals together tend to connect more intimately. Such bonding opens your teen to your authority. Family time creates respect, as well as parental power.
- Try my Empathic Process. Communicate with your child through active listening in a non-defensive way regularly, and you will create a safe space in which your child can tell you how she feels and how she is doing. By investing your child in the collaborative process of communication, your teen will be more likely to respect family rules and values. This self-investment allows your teen to not only be a part of solutions, but also, consequences.
- Be what you want to see. Teens are social animals who learn through imitation and modeling. If you are a parent who is influenced by celebrity and obsessed with body image and your weight, you will set a poor example of health, both emotionally and physically, for your teen.
- Finally, remember that you are entitled to parent. Supervise your child. Know her peer group, what she is viewing for entertainment, and her online activity.
In the final analysis, parents have the power. Though it's true that teens are especially vulnerable to peer group socialization, they still want parental approval and intimacy. If, however, you recognize as a parent that your teen's body image issues are out of control, absolutely seek professional help and counseling.
A healthy family can be counted on to be a home team, with parents at the helm to instill your families' healthy values and support... don't give up your control to cellophane celebrity.