Teenagers today spend a lot of their time on social media. While they are becoming wise to cyberbullying and online predators, they may not realize that time online could hurt body image and healthy eating habits.
Young people are influenced by selfies that promote impossible beauty standards and unhealthy eating trends. They believe they must look perfect yet are encouraged to make poor food choices, which can lead to eating disorders.
It doesn’t have to be that way, though. By helping teens understand how and why food and self-image impact us, they can make wise choices to cultivate a positive body image that fosters self-esteem.
How Social Media Can Promote Unhealthy Habits
As teenagers navigate their way to adulthood, they seek to understand their bodies through the lens of their peers. Social media gives them the tools to find influencers to emulate.
Unfortunately, today’s selfie culture often harms how teens view their bodies. Even though many teens may think that influencers post selfies and other content online as a way to seem authentic, it’s just another tactic influencers use to build their audience — even if that means being inauthentic in the process.
They’ll spend endless time and money to perfect their style, including using makeup, expensive wardrobe items, personal training, supplements, Botox, and more. On top of that, they use beauty filters to get just the right effect, creating impossible-to-meet beauty standards. Impressionable adolescents try to emulate this, rather than feeling good about their own bodies.
Some influencers even push food and eating trends that do more harm than good, such as promoting diets or medications that can lead to eating disorders. For example, even though the Type II diabetes medication was originally intended to help patients treat side effects from the disease, many people on social media found the drug to be helpful for weight loss in general — even if they didn’t have the diagnosis.
Teens who see this activity may assume it as normal behavior — especially if the influencers promoting the drug have a similar or more desirable body type.
No matter what trends teens see or who they follow, however, every teen deserves the support and encouragement to form healthy eating habits and a positive body image.
Nurturing Healthy Eating Habits: Tips for Teens
Teaching our kids about nutrition begins, naturally, with our own eating habits. It’s not enough to show them how to fill a plate. We must also be an example by demonstrating proper portion sizes, eating a variety of nutrients, and creating a positive experience around food.
Teens follow what they see from social media stars they admire, so the wisest course of action is to take those trends and make them healthy. For example, take the concept of “girl dinners” — the eating trend that went viral on TikTok. It’s just another name for snacks, but it can lead teens to eat less than they should for their body’s requirements.
Rather than forcing your teen to have a full plate with a hot, 3-portion meal, you can easily adapt a “girl dinner” to be more nutritious. Start with what you want in a healthy meal: protein, produce, fiber, and carbs. Serve it on a cutting board or pack it in a bento box for their lunch. You can even create a vegan option, as this is another hot food trend. Raw veggies, hummus, olives, whole grain pitas, nuts, and fruit make a healthy, animal-free lunch that their friends will want to try.
Fun food techniques like these build eating habits that your teen can use in college, including making a meal on a tight budget and choosing healthy, portable snacks.
Building Up Your Teen’s Body Positivity
Making healthy food choices is just one way to encourage self-esteem. Fostering a positive body image in your teen starts with you. Do you speak negatively about your body in front of your family? If so, it’s time to stop saying things like “I hate my body” or “I feel fat.”
Teens need to hear positive messages, especially in their home. Focus on what feels good about your body and how it happened. If you exercise and feel fit afterward, share that. If you got a good night’s sleep, talk about how energized you feel.
Your positivity does help your teen, but how do you protect them from negative messages they get from outside the home? They are well aware of how the latest fashion trends make an impact. Just like influencer selfies, these trends also can include beauty standards that are unrealistic.
Help your teen grow their body positivity by making smart clothing choices. You don’t have to fight every trend. Today, inclusive fashion exists for all body types. Help your child shop for clothing that flatters their body shape and size but is still fashionable. This will give them valuable skills and help them to feel good about how they look.
Teaching Other Important Health Habits
Eating healthy food, avoiding negative self-talk, and wearing properly fitting clothes are a great start to building body positivity in your teen. You can also help them develop a lifestyle of wellness that builds self-esteem their whole life. Some ways to encourage this include:
- Foster healthy sleep patterns: Did you know teenagers need 9 or 10 hours of sleep per night? Sleep deprivation can impact mood, grades, and activities, including academic or athletic performance. Create a schedule for your child that gets them up regularly, even on weekends and days off.
- Facilitate a healthy relationship with daily movement and exercise: Exercise should never be a punishment for eating too much or gaining weight. Your teens should see it as a celebration of their body’s capabilities. If your child is not athletic or involved in sports, encourage them to try some form of workout they might enjoy for years to come, especially if it’s a low-impact exercise, like yoga or swimming. This way, they can always turn to this activity as a hobby, rather than a simple exercise.
- Encourage more activities in nature: Daily walks in nature are great for mental and physical wellness. Schedule regular outdoor activities so your whole family can get off the screens for a few hours.
Teens today are influenced by a barrage of information from social media, much of which can lead to unhealthy habits and poor self-esteem. When we guide our kids to develop habits that foster good health and a positive body image, we give them the best chance to overcome unrealistic beauty standards. That gives them a good self-image that will serve them their whole lives!
Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and fitness-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.
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