Saturday, January 7, 2012

How to Help Your Teen Overcome Self-image Issues

Ivana Pejakovic, B.Sc., MA

Self-image is how your teen sees herself. It’s how she perceives her physical and psychological self. Her answers to questions such as the ones below, helps you get an idea of her self-image.

1. What are you capable of achieving?
2. How would you describe your abilities?
3. Are you deserving of all good things in life?
4. How would you describe yourself (good points and bad points)?
5. How would others describe you? (Ask for some negative points too, otherwise she’ll only give you the good ones).

The image your teen has of herself determines what she’ll try in life and what she’ll run away from. If you’re not sure whether your teen gave you an accurate description of herself using the questions above, your clue to her self-image is her behaviour and her desire to be involved in life activities—it’s a reflection of what she believes she’s capable of. Also, pay attention to the attitude she has about herself and about life. A negative attitude is usually reflected in perceived self-limitation.

Many teens (and adults) have a tough time seeing themselves in a positive perspective. Teens in our society have been conditioned to pay attention to their weaknesses, mistakes, and incapability so they can ‘fix’ them. Unfortunately, paying attention to the negative points usually leads teens to internalize a negative self-image.

Teens of parents who repeatedly bring up their negative points (no matter how good their intention) are more likely to struggle with a negative self-image even if they are excelling at everything. It’s not outer success that determines a good self-image; it’s how teens are taught to think about themselves! Don’t let your teen’s good performance fool you into thinking everything is ok with her self-image and self-esteem. Let her overall behaviour guide you.

If you’re certain your teen has a poor self-image, it’s best to nip it in the bud before it becomes habitual. The longer she has this negative opinion of herself, the more effect it will have on her life and the harder it will be to break it.

Here are some general ideas to help your teen overcome a negative self-image:

1. Media exposure: Unfortunately, one of the things teens are most exposed to is more likely to hurt their self-image than it is to help it. Since you can’t control everything your teen is exposed to, your job is to empower your teen to think critically about what she sees and hears on TV and to be aware of how it makes her feel about herself. Media literacy is very important in our society.

2. Your self-image: How you see yourself is usually reflected in how you speak about yourself and in your actions (low or high confidence). Your behaviour and self-talk is absorbed by your kids. If you think you may have some trouble seeing yourself in a positive light and you think it’s reflected in your everyday action you may want to consider getting some guidance on overcoming a negative self-image. It’s a simple enough process which requires self-awareness to help you understand why you see yourself as you do. The benefits will be seen in your entire family. Remember, healthy moms and dads = healthy sons and daughters.

3. Extracurricular activities: Encourage your teen to be involved in variety of activities. Teens who are involved in social activities tend to have a more positive image of themselves. These teens also have a higher confidence level and develop less social phobias or anxieties. Teens who are not a part of various activities tend to develop the “I can’t” attitude which is rooted in a negative self-image.

4. Self-esteem: A positive self-esteem will positively affect your teen’s self-image (or a positive self-image will positively affect your teen’s self-esteem...all depends on what causes what). To help increase your teen’s self-esteem work on the following activities: build your connection with your child, encourage a 'yes, I can attitude,' avoid social comparisons in the home (we are not others and we are not meant to measure up to them...encourage uniqueness and reaching personal potential), teach your teen to accept compliments, keep a list of her successes on the refrigerator, provide her with the opportunity to hang out with positive and inspiring people, teach her to take action to do the things she likes.

5. Physical appearance: Teen’s self-image is also very much connected to her appearance, particularly in our society. Although make-up and clothes are important to girls, it’s not the only thing to consider. After all, the makeup and clothes come off at night. Make a point of focusing on healthy eating and fitness. Taking these actions will help your teen feel better about herself. Spending a day on the couch is usually not as rewarding as spending the day on a bike, walking, hiking or participating is some other favourite activity. Make it a family lifestyle!

Best Wishes to You and Your Family!

Ivana Pejakovic, Life Coach in Toronto

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