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Mental Health

For the Love of Your Daughter’s Self-Esteem

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If you’re trying to raise a teenage girl with a healthy body image, it could easily feel like the entire world is fighting you. While that’s not true, those concerns make sense because popular culture worships thinness—especially in women. 

We don’t have to tell you about the artificial, filtered images of women you and your daughter see all day every day—in social media, television, magazines, billboards, and on and on. You might already be concerned about those damaging messages, maybe because you know how they’ve negatively affected your own perceptions. 

But what can you do about it? And, most important, how do you encourage your adolescent daughter to grow into a woman who has a positive image of herself, productive life goals, and healthy eating and exercise habits?  

It’s not easy, but it is doable. Here’s how you can help keep her moving in the right direction.

  • Talk about self-image. Let her know that healthy body shapes come in a variety of sizes and that self-confidence is important.
  • Talk about media messages. Help her understand that a lot of what she’s seeing has been altered and that she is getting inaccurate subliminal messages that only one (thin) body type is acceptable.
  • Monitor her internet use. If your daughter has a phone, chances are she’s engaging on social media, where teens share pictures. Make her aware that the opinions of others are just that: opinions. And monitor the amount of time she’s spending online. There are plenty of healthier activities.
  • Explain puberty. Let her know that it’s natural for her body, weight, and emotions to change as she goes through puberty, getting her first menstrual cycle. A trusted family doctor or OB/GYN can reinforce these messages if you feel like you need back up.
  • Use positive language. Talk about staying healthy with good nutrition and exercise, rather than using words like “fat,” “skinny,” or “thin.” If family members or friends use negative language to talk about body types, correct them in front of her.
  • Compliment her (and yourself). Tell her what you like about her body, what you like about yours, and encourage her to do the same thing. 
  • Get your family doctor involved. Doctors can help set realistic weight, nutrition, and exercise goals.
  • Be a good example. Make sure your family is modeling healthy eating and exercise habits. Include movement into your day and take her with you—maybe for a walk while you talk.
  • Keep a bowl of apples on the counter. Apples are always a healthy snack.
  • Promote healthy role models. Talk to your daughter about women who are successful in their careers, or are community builders, or artists, taking the focus away from their appearance and putting it on what they do.
  • Encourage friendships. Friends who value your daughter for more than her appearance are priceless.

Encouraging your daughter’s self-respect and positive opinions about her body can affect her for the rest of her life, even setting off a chain reaction when she grows up and has a family of her own. The guidelines above can help. But if you suspect your daughter is struggling with low self-esteem or an eating disorder, consult a doctor. She’s not alone and there’s plenty of help available.

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