How to Manage Body Image in Tweens

By Tracy Wright
Fork with measuring tape wrapped around

Being a tween and teen is a rollercoaster of hormones, emotions and drama. One of the biggest hurdles they face can be related to body image. Social media doesn’t help — with so many messages being about the “ideal” body types. It also doesn’t help when even parents and adults are feeling influenced by what their bodies should look like, with people increasingly using plastic surgery and other methods to change themselves.

Dealing with insecurity

Nearly two-thirds of parents say their child is insecure about some aspect of their appearance, and one in five say their teens avoid scenarios like being in photos because they’re too self-conscious, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at University of Michigan Health.

“Adolescence is a time to develop healthy body image. Our thoughts and feelings about our physical appearance begin to develop in childhood but become much more relevant during teen years,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

However, parents may not realize that their own body image could hugely influence their own children. If a parent is always body-bashing themselves or making negative comments about their looks, they can expect their children to follow suit, according to

How to help

According to the Butterfly Foundation, a national eating disorder nonprofit, “how parents talk about their own or other bodies, the value they place on appearance, weight, shape and size can all transfer to young people. Importantly, family dynamics can also help buffer some of the really strong socio-cultural influences on body image such as social media and peers.”

Experts say that parents should focus on what their children’s bodies can do rather than possible flaws they may have.

Local clinical psychologist Lauren Soberon says to “adopt a perspective towards health in general that emphasizes function over appearance. Positive attitudes toward physical activity (to reach our full potential), healthy relationships with food (to fuel our bodies in the way it needs us to), and celebrate both your child’s physical and non-physical attributes (e.g., “I love how fast you run and how kind you are with others).”

The effects of body image issues

Body image issues are commonly associated with girls but can affect all kids of all ages. Research has traditionally shown that children’s body image concerns for females are most often centered on appearance or weight, while body image concerns for males are most often focused on stature and muscularity. Perspectives that help our children (regardless of gender) appreciate the non-physical attributes of themselves can be helpful, Soberon said.

Unfortunately, sometimes children’s negative body images can turn to serious conditions like eating disorders. According to, warning signs for tweens include:

  • Skipping meals or making excuses to eat in secret
  • Excessive focus on food or healthy eating
  • Persistent worry or complaints of being fat
  • Frequent body checking
  • Repeatedly eating large amounts of sweets or high-fat foods
  • Regularly going to the bathroom after eating
  • Eating more than considered normal for a meal or snack
  • Expressing depression, disgust, shame or guilt about eating habits

“Parents who observe these signs should seek professional help; early and appropriate intervention can play a crucial role in treatment and recovery,” Soberon said.

If you think your child is suffering from an eating disorder, talk to your pediatrician or visit

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