If you're raising a teenager then you already know how much she wants to fit in with her peers. If you've asked her about jumping off the proverbial bridge if all of her friends did, you may get the feeling that the answer would be yes, even though what she tells you is to stop being so dramatic. This desire for conformity may leave her obsessing over her body and finding flaws with it.
At this age, your teen often cares more about what her peers think than what you think. Telling her to ignore her friends or that if they judge her on her body they aren't good friends is going to get your nowhere fast. The bottom line is, teens want to fit in so she cares what her friends -- and her enemies -- think. Adolescence is a time when teens form closer ties to their friends and renegotiate the parent-child relationship, according to the University of Nebraska. Influence from peers can be positive or negative. Peer pressure to conform to the perceived norm can be overwhelming. Peers may exert more influence than the media over teenage girls' perception and satisfaction with their bodies.
There's a correlation between media and negative body image, and not just for girls, reports The National Eating Disorders Association. Young men may feel they are not muscular enough after frequent exposure to media images. One third of teenage boys use unhealthy methods to control their weight, such as using laxatives or smoking. Girls as young as 7 are being treated for anorexia. The National Institutes of Health recommend limiting children's exposure to media as well as promoting healthy eating and moderate activity. It's not all bad news though. Black and Hispanic girls who watch black-oriented TV tend to have greater body satisfaction.
Children are affected by their mother's body image, says the Office of Women's Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. She pays attention to not just what you say, but what you do. Mothers who are critical of their daughters' weight or of their own can have a negative impact of their daughters' body images. While not much research has been done to date, it makes sense that a father's influence also carries an impact. Children of both genders need to be shown by both parents that they are valued for traits other than their looks.
There are ways to help your teen develop a healthy body image so she is not obsessed hers being perfect. Parents who continue to communicate with their teen through conflicts maintain closer relationships. As strong an influence as peers are, parental influence is stronger. Being able to communicate about these things is the first step. Limit media exposure and have a frank conversation about how women and men are portrayed. Talk about things like airbrushing and unhealthy diets. Make sure your child is valued for other things. Instead of "You're pretty," try complimenting hard work on a project or her sense of humor. Make sure you are not sending mixed messages by verbalizing unhappiness with your own body, participating in unhealthy crash diets or adding conditions to compliments, such as "You'd be even prettier if you lost a little weight."