self image

3 Ways Parents Contribute to Poor Self-Image in Teens

Heartbreaking. There’s no other word to describe that feeling when your daughter, who plays 3 sports, who you’re constantly barking at to eat more, and who you think is one of the most beautiful people on the planet says, “Ugh, my face is fat.” Or when you overhear your son, who has the most compassionate heart you’ve ever seen, make fun of someone as he sits with his friends because he knows it makes him look tough.

Teenagers learn to be master contortionists. They twist themselves into whatever shape they’re told they need to be in order to fit in. And they receive these messages in many ways through many different sources. These messages come from school, friends, religious groups, advertising, social media, books, basically everywhere. Some messages are good. But many are not and lead them to have a poor self-image. Of course we can’t really avoid this dynamic, but unfortunately, we too often contribute. Here’s how:

1. We don’t talk about what media they are consuming.

Have you ever engaged your child in a conversation about a commercial you just watched or why they are feverishly checking their social media profile for likes?

Have you listened to the songs they listen to and talked with them about the lyrics?

How about movies? That Netflix series she’s binge-watching? That book he loves?

I know your teenager acts like they don’t care what you think. Talk with them anyway.

I know your teenager acts like they don’t care what you think. Talk with them anyway. Notice I said ‘with’ not ‘to’. Don’t lecture, but do engage. You’re opinion matters more than you think. Help your teen see how media is shaping the way she sees herself.

2. We tell our teen who they are instead of helping them discover who they are.

Your teen is not a younger version of you. Your goal is not to make sure she gets to do all the things you never got to do. She is her own person. One of the best things you can do for your teens’ self-image is to help her recognize her unique interests and talents and encourage her to pursue them.

As she begins to see her gifts and use them in ways that contribute positively, she will develop a stronger sense of who she is and the gift she is to the world.

3. We never ask our teens to take responsibility for anything.

We can fall into the trap of believing our job as parents is to make our kids’ lives easy. They’re kids, after all, just let them be kids. It’s a parent’s job to do the dishes, mow the lawn, clean the house, do the laundry, kids should be free to hang out with their friends, play sports and get their homework done.

But this attitude overlooks the fact that helping our teen take responsibility for his life is critical for positively building our teens’ self-image. Requiring our teens to take responsibility at home is a great way to build their belief that they have something of value to contribute to the world. I’m not saying he’ll love it. He’ll probably fight you. But in the end, his ability to contribute positively at home will teach him that he is capable of contributing positively elsewhere. (And when he’s the one at college teaching his roommates to cook and do their laundry, or the employee who knows how to take initiative on his own, he’ll begin to see the impact of this.)

By actively involving ourselves we can be a positive influence in building our teens’ self-image and their understanding of their place in the world.

Sound off: Thinking back on your time as a teenager, what influenced your view of yourself the most?

Huddle up and ask your kids, “What do you think your strengths are? How can you use those to contribute to our family?”