How to Prevent the Media From Damaging Your Teen's Body Image

Teenage girl sitting on her bed looking at facebook on a laptop

Brendan O'Sullivan / Photolibrary / Getty Images

The average teen spends about nine hours per day using media for their enjoyment, according to a report by Common Sense Media. Frighteningly, those same teens spend less than an average of 10 minutes a day talking to their parents.

It’s likely that during those nine hours of media consumption your teen is bombarded with thousands of messages about the "ideal" body. These unrealistic and unattainable portrayals of beauty can wreak havoc on your teen’s body image if you’re not careful.

Messages Teens Receive

Movies, commercials, magazines, and websites portray beautiful people as ideal. Underweight models and Photoshopped images of perfection are everywhere. Diet products and beauty items send the message that being thinner and more attractive is the key to happiness and success.

The effect can be seen in children at a young age. Research shows children as young as 3 prefer game pieces that depict thin people over those representing heavier ones. By age 10, 80% of American girls have been on a diet.

Social Media and Perfection

It’s not just traditional media that places teens under pressure to be thin and beautiful. Social media may have an even more powerful effect on your teen’s body image.

Immediate, peer-to-peer feedback can be addictive for those whose self-esteem depends on social media affirmations.

Many teens crave validation from their peers and social media is a quick way for them to gain feedback. Whether a teen posts a selfie on Instagram, or she views pictures of others boasting about their "thigh gap" on Tumblr, social influences can be very powerful.

Some teens spend hours trying to capture a selfie at just the right angle. Others gauge their appearance based on how many likes their latest Facebook photo receives.

Unfortunately, many teens receive harsh criticism and rude comments on social media. Cyberbullying can be quite damaging to a teen’s body image.

Consequences of Poor Body Image

The pressure to be thin can have serious consequences. Research has linked the exposure of images of underweight air-brushed female bodies to unhealthy eating habits and decreased self-esteem.

Poor body image can lead to even more serious consequences. While some teens develop eating disorders, others experience depression. A 2009 study found that girls who were unhappy with their appearance were at a significantly higher risk for suicide.

Boys and Body Image

It’s not just girls who are subjected to unrealistic media portrayals of beauty. Superheroes and action figures depict unrealistic body types and start sending boys the wrong messages at a young age. Teen boys may strive for the perfect body through dieting or compulsive exercise. They may also develop eating disorders or mental health problems stemming from poor body image.

Media’s Harmful Effects

It’s impossible to prevent your teen from being bombarded with harmful media images all the time. Smartphones and increased electronic devices mean your teen will see idealized versions of beauty everywhere. But you can teach your teen to be media literate.

  • Use real examples. Watch TV together and pause shows and commercials to talk about the messages that are being sent. Look at magazines together and discuss the unrealistic images.
  • Talk about marketing efforts. Discuss the tactics advertisers use to sell products. Help your teen spot underlying messages about how a product will make her more attractive.
  • Hold conversations about unhealthy body images. Discuss the harsh realities that underweight models and overly-muscular stars experience. Talk about the drastic and unhealthy measures many people take to obtain these body types, despite the toll it takes on their health.

Make these topics part of ongoing conversations in your house. Help your teen develop a healthy body image and you’ll reduce the negative impact media and social media will have.

If your child is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

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6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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