Helping Your Teen Build A Healthier Body Image

Posted on December 18th, 2014

Kristi Yeh, MFTMarriage and Family TherapistThe Healthy Teen Project

Teens are inundated with unhealthy messages from the media, friends, and family about body image. It is almost expected behavior for teenage girls to criticize their bodies, talk ad nauseam about the latest diet fad, and even comment on others’ appearances. “You look great…have you lost weight?” The message that adolescents receive is that beauty, acceptance, and status depend upon being thin.

And it’s not just teen girls. The rate of adolescent boys dissatisfied with their bodies continues to rise. Whether receiving pressure from coaches, peers, or the media, males are being told that muscular physiques or lanky builds are superior. Just because teenage boys are talking about it less does not mean the pressure they feel to conform to society’s ideal body is any lower. Unfortunately this body dissatisfaction is more difficult to detect as a parent. Due to stereotypical gender roles, teenage boys often feel ashamed to voice body image struggles compared to their female peers.

Why is it important to cultivate a healthy body image now?

First of all, we know that body image is often shaped in late childhood and adolescence. In addition, research shows that negative body image is correlated with lower self-esteem and increased rates of depression and anxiety. Body dissatisfaction is also a risk factor for developing an eating disorder—a life threatening illness that impacts the psyche, body, and social environment.

How can you help your teen improve their body image?

You are very important. Parents, especially the same sex parent, have perhaps the greatest impact on their child’s satisfaction with their body. Of course, you cannot eliminate media from your teen’s life or unhealthy comments from their peers, but you do have power over what you model.

First, get rid of that scale, don’t label foods as good or bad, and consider diet a four-letter word. Avoid expressing excessive concern with your teenager’s appearance, commenting about other people’s bodies, and making negative remarks about your own body. Then, exercise for fun—not to burn calories—and research intuitive eating so you can model positive habits for your teen.

It is also critical to learn about the role social media plays in your teenager’s life. Social media represents one of the biggest changes in how teenagers connect since you were an adolescent. Studies have found that for some teens, comparing themselves to others’ social media profiles decreases body acceptance and self-esteem. Educate yourself about social networks, smart phone applications, and websites that promote, and even glamorize, unhealthy body image.

Just think of all the things your teenager can do with the time previously spent focused on body dissatisfaction! Negative body image tends to decrease when people are engaged in fulfilling activities and giving back to others. Encourage your adolescent to explore their passions and join in on the fun too.

Helping your teen build a healthier body image not only supports a healthy life now, but it also sets the stage for the years far beyond adolescence.

Click here for more valuable ideas that can improve body image:


What has worked for you in helping your teen cultivate a healthy body image?

What have you noticed about the correlation between how you view your body and your teen views his/her body?

What positive habits do you model for your teen?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

* * * * * *


Would you like additional guidance in this area? Los Gatos Teen Therapy provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.

13 thoughts on “Helping Your Teen Build A Healthier Body Image

  1. DHS2014

    I believe it is important to have a healthy body. We try to encourage our kids to exercise regularly and to eat healthy foods. We lead by example, but try not to be critical.

    1. KristiYehMFT

      It is key to lead by example and remember all foods fit! For more information about intuitive eating you can visit I am a big supporter of their philosophy because I believe it fosters a positive relationship with food and exercise. In addition, intuitive eating empowers people to tune into their bodies, and tune out false messages about nutrition that are often promoted to sell diet products.

  2. Lindsay Smith

    These are great tips for us to help our teens (and even ourselves) develop a healthier body image! It’s easy to forgot how vital our modeling is to our teen’s body image development. I really like the idea of just not commenting on bodies – whether it is our teen’s, our own, or others we see. And it would be great if instead of commenting on how someone looks, we could focus on the positive traits within that person!

    1. Carol Satterlee

      Here, here. I totally agree with Lindsay on how parents/adults can model behaviors and comments that counter all the negative out there. I know it’s a tough battle as we are competing with the access teens have to all that negative stuff out there. And I think this is the compelling reason we as parents must do our best to stay connected with our kids in order to invite the hard conversations and show more compassion and less judgment.

  3. KristiYehMFT

    I am the author of this blog post, and I am interested in hearing
    feedback from readers. It is wonderful to see parents in the community so
    dedicated to building a better relationship with their teenagers.

  4. SatomiNichols

    I see that The Healthy Teen Project treats eating disorders. What are some resources for teenagers struggling with body image?

    1. KristiYehMFT

      The Body Positive is an organization that provides workshops for parents in addition to educational DVDs that promote healthy body image for children and adolescents. Other resources include mental health clinicians that facilitate body image and self-esteem therapy groups as well as individual counseling. If you would like specific referrals please let me know.

  5. Ariel Whitlock MFTI

    Thank you so much Kristi and Los Gatos Teen Therapy for helping spread this discussion about healthy body image. As a professional working with Eating Disorders, I cannot be more supportive of families having positive body talk. The media is very cruel to bodies and I love the ideas that Kristi as put forth in this blog. Having body positive talk, not labeling foods and riding your house of scales are all good things that we can do to combat the overwhelming pressure to look a certain way.

  6. Jaiebrynna

    I really enjoyed this piece! Thank you for discussing the fact that even though you may not think your child is looking to you as a model, they are. It is so important to model appropriate behavior and discussion for everyone. What types of activities would you recommend to for parents to keep their kids engaged in a healthy way?

    1. KristiYehMFT

      When it comes to body image and self-esteem finding out what activities your child enjoys is vital. Pursuing endeavors that lead to feelings of joy and pride help teenagers
      develop character and confidence instead of focusing on our culture’s preoccupation
      with appearances. Often times in Silicon Valley adolescents are pressured to focus on school and it leaves little time for hobbies and fun. Great ideas often come from things your child used to enjoy, but maybe stopped making time for, such as art, games, sports, volunteering, etc.

      In addition, it can be empowering for teenagers to learn about social advocacy. You might discuss with them examples such as the teenager Benjamin O’Keefe that went up against the retailer Abercrombie & Fitch by creating a petition through

      When Benjamin O’Keefe read the words of Abercrombie & Fitch’s chief executive,
      Mike Jeffries, suggesting that the retailer wanted its clothes worn only by
      thin, attractive “cool kids,” he wasn’t happy. Mr. O’Keefe, 18, struggled with
      weight issues in middle and high school and felt compelled to speak out. He
      created a petition on the Web site, encouraging Mr. Jeffries to sell clothes to people of all sizes. That was on May 8; the petition has now attracted more than 75,000 signatures.

      About Face is another worthwhile resource that endorses healthy body image and self-esteem ideals. They also have great suggestions to fight harmful messages in the media about beauty and health. For more information you can visit

      Regarding exercise, I am a big proponent of engaging in fun family activities such as
      walking the dog, practicing yoga, or surfing, instead of being in the gym.

  7. Anita B.

    I really appreciate this article, Kristi. As a parent of a child in eating disorder recovery, I am grateful for so many great new ideas and thoughts to keep in mind to continue supporting my daughter! Great posts like this are so wonderful to find!!

    1. KristiYehMFT

      I am so glad you found the blog post useful. It sounds like your family is healing and your daughter has a lot of support.

Comments are closed.