It’s never been easy to be a teenager – but to add to the standard adolescent angst, today’s young people are exposed to a huge amount of online pressure to look a certain, idealised way.
And it’s not just teenage girls whose self-esteem and mental health is damaged by such pressure – last year The Good Childhood Report found boys were also experiencing a decline in happiness connected to how they look.
“Is it any wonder that many struggle with their self-esteem and mental health?” asks Clare Rowland, mental health youth worker at The Children’s Society (childrenssociety.org.uk).
Here are her tips on how parents can help young people boost their self-esteem and look after their mental health.
1. Help your child learn to love themselves
Help your child to love themselves just the way they are, and become comfortable and confident in their own skin. See if they can write a list of things they like about themselves. Try and focus this on features that aren’t related to how much they weigh or what they look like, but about who they are as a person, and what they bring to the world. Encourage them to read their list often. They may prefer to write these things on Post-it notes and stick them around their room so they can be reminded of them regularly. To support your young person, avoid the use of any negative comments about their appearance or shape/size. Give them praise and encouragement, focusing on your love for them just as they are.
2. Encourage them to start a gratitude journal
A gratitude journal is a way to keep a regular memo of the things we appreciative on a daily basis. Encourage your young person to allocate a time each day to journal about a few things they’re grateful for. These may not be hugely significant things, but it’s more a way to acknowledge those things we sometimes take for granted. Examples might be ‘I’m grateful it wasn’t raining when I walked to school’ or ‘I’m grateful for the laughs I had with my friends today’. You may want to treat them to a new notebook to get started.
3. Remind your child that some media images are altered
Young people are bombarded by images daily and it’s important they remember they might not always be seeing real images – technologies like Photoshop mean an image can be transformed in every possible way. This can create a false perception of how the human body really looks and is leading to a generation of young people aspiring to an unrealistic and unhealthy body image. Some celebrities have hit back at this trend, including Stacey Solomon who spoke out on the reality of Photoshop and posed in a bikini to show what her body really looks like.
Introduce conversations about the human body and the reality of how it looks. Often parents play a vital role in creating a safe space for young people to understand and learn about the real world, away from the classroom and what they read online.
4. Encourage them to wear comfortable clothes
We all have clothes that make us feel more comfortable, and clothes that make us feel much less so. Young people can explore what style, shape and sized clothes make them feel good about themselves, and fill their wardrobe with more of these. Talk to them about the clothes you like wearing and the things you have to avoid – this might help them understand everyone has different shapes and sizes and will feel comfortable wearing different things.
5. Help them manage their newsfeed
To work towards better self-esteem and body image, it can help to take control of social media usage and content. In newsfeeds there are often people whose posts and images have a negative impact on our wellbeing and self-perception. Encourage your child to unfollow some of these people and sites to remove their negative influences.
At the same time, are there certain people or celebrities who promote positive self-esteem and body confidence, and are these people they could see more content from? If you use social media too, this could be an activity you do together. Check out the Young Minds LifeOnTheWeb campaign to help young people own their newsfeeds.
6. Demonstrate a healthy attitude towards body image and self-esteem.
As a parent it’s important to be aware of how easily children and young people can learn behaviours from you. Sometimes without realising we might be contributing to conversations about diet, weight loss and body image in the presence of our children.
Consider how you could move away from this. It might mean diverting conversations away from the topic of weight loss, perhaps being more conscious of the language and conversations we have about our own appearance in front of a child, and encouraging a general attitude of positive body confidence.
7. Remind your child everyone’s different
It’s so important that we learn to celebrate difference and embrace who we are, instead of aspiring to be like somebody else. Remind your young person the human body comes in all shapes and sizes, and so do our features, personalities, lifestyles and general existence.
Through praise, love, and encouragement, help your young person celebrate their existence as a uniquely wonderful person, and remind them often you love them just the way they are.
8. Ask for support
If your child comes to you with worries in relation to self-esteem, body image or mental health and you aren’t able to help them, see if they’d be happy to seek other support. That could be through a trusted friend, family member or professional support such as a GP who’ll be able to tell you about local therapy services.