Adolescence is a pivotal time during which young people experience new and exciting, yet sometimes uneasy transitions. Young adults face the daunting tasks of maintaining social relationships with peers and family, juggling academics and extracurricular activities, and dealing with the physical and emotional changes that come with puberty. That’s a complicated repertoire even without the medley of Hollywood-enhanced expectations facing them from an ever-present media.
The media plays a major role in a teenager’s social and personal perceptions. According to the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average young person views more than 3,000 ads per day (more than 40,000 per year) on television, the internet, billboards, and in magazines. Most of the time, these forms of media portray images of slender, athletic men and women with “perfect” hair and facial features. You can imagine how adolescents must struggle each day, working to define themselves and see where they fit into that narrowly defined concept of perfection. These ingredients are a recipe for negative views of body image, which can lead to negative self-talk.
Body image is defined as how we perceive our body visually; how we feel about our physical appearance; our sense of how others view our bodies; our sense of our bodies in physical space; and our level of connectedness to our bodies. Self-talk is defined as the ongoing internal conversation we have with ourselves, which influences how we feel and behave. It is important to teach our youth how to focus their energy on positive self-talk and realistic body image expectations. Negative self-talk amplifies bad feelings, creating hurt, anger, frustration, depression and anxiety. Address negative self-talk tendencies early to prevent those harmful behaviors from being carried into adulthood.
Consider these tips for teaching young people to focus positively on body image:
- Try not to compare yourself to peers, family members, or images seen in the media.
Everyone is different. We all grow, look, and mature differently at our own pace. Our bodies are designed to be different and we should embrace our own unique features. Everyone isn’t meant to grow really tall or be the most athletic kid at school. You don’t have to grow to the same height as your best friend or older sibling, nor do you have to look like the male or female model that you see in advertisements. The changes that you experience during puberty are normal and necessary for your body to physically and mentally become an adult.
- Turn negative thoughts in to positives thoughts.
Everyone has days when their hair doesn’t look the way they’d like or their clothes don’t feel as if they fit comfortably. Some negative thoughts could be, “I’ll never have perfect hair.” or “My day is going to be horrible because this shirt doesn’t look right on me.” Instead, take a positive approach: “My hair is different from that of my peers and makes me unique.” Rather than letting your clothes determine how your day will go, plan at night before school to choose comfortable outfits that you will enjoy wearing.
While growing up is complicated, it is important for kids to understand that they are going through many changes, both physical and mental. It’s especially important for young people to know that they are wonderful, distinct individuals and that no one else can be exactly like them. Focusing on positive thoughts, and being sure to give yourself credit for the good that you do, will outweigh negativity and overthrow unrealistic expectations.