Life as an Adolescent

Body Image Problems: What Do I Really Look Like?

It's not just kids with eating disorders who have warped or negative body images and who suffer from lowered self-esteem because of it. We all suffer from the image promoted by the media of what the perfect body looks like (and it's hard even for adults to shake the impression that life would be better if we only had thinner thighs, bigger breasts, a more manly chest, or another two inches of height).

Your adolescent, already hyperself-conscious, may be terribly affected by these messages, so insidious that they seem to float through the air and water into her head (even if you only allow her to watch public television). The girl who believes that she's somehow lacking because she isn't skinny like Kate Moss or busty like Pamela Anderson, the boy who measures his chest development and looks against Brad Pitt's, suffer a distorted self-image and a lowered self-esteem.

While you cannot avoid these media messages, you can help your child build a strong self-image through encouragement, trust, love, limits and consequences. Model good self-imaging. Stop comparing your own thighs to those of Kate Moss (does she even have any?). By concentrating on strength and ability (sports, dance, or other activities that make her feel good about her abilities), you can help transcend (or at least lessen) society's stress on appearances.

Behave Yourself!

Never criticize your child's looks or weight, even when the criticism is couched in suggestions (“Martina, what about that new exercise program Nadia is doing? It's really firmed her up!”). She knows (far more than you do) where her “failings” are. Even constructive criticism usually isn't.

It's the Pals That Matter

What do you remember most about junior high and high school? Besides that evil, ruler-wielding Miss Slicker who taught German, and cranky, slobbery Mr. Glubb, the bane of the math department, it's your friends, right?

Tales from the Parent Zone

Then there's the time when Katherine, age 16, was shopping for a prom dress. She found the perfect one. “I'll take it!” she told the saleswoman. “Wait. Just in case my mom likes it, is it returnable?” Teenagers struggle hard to find their independence. Asserting her own taste (and denying her mother's) was, for Katherine, an essential part of this process.

During adolescence, social relationships are at least as important as family, sometimes more so. As your child goes through the soul-searching journey of who she is and how she's going to spend her life, it's her friends who are her companions. You, her parent, take a lesser role.


It would be great if adolescents were content to simply shift their loyalties to their friends, while still giving you some respect. No dice. Sometimes it seems as though they're on a mission to burn every bridge, to humiliate you into submission. Did you know just how square, boring, dorky, and embarrassing you were? (If you have an adolescent, you do now!)

Being treated like this can be very disconcerting, to say the least (especially if you had any pretenses that you were at all cool, or at least interesting). While you may understand intellectually that this kind of treatment is merely part of your adolescent's job, to separate from you, it still can be very painful and hard to handle.

There are a couple of things you can do:

  • Work on gaining some psychological distance from your child. Just as it's her job to separate from you, so, too, you must learn to get along without her (at least for a number of years).
  • Take care of yourself through self-nurturing activities. If your adolescent is like most, you can use some support. If your kid is miserable, you are apt to feel miserable yourself.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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