As an expert in teen mental health, part of my job is to educate both my teen client and their parents about the important purpose of adolescence and the tasks they will need to navigate as they learn and grow during Teen Counseling. According to Erik Erickson’s theory of psychosocial development, this stage is known as Identity Development versus Role Confusion. In short, this is the stage where teenagers begin to explore their values, beliefs, and sense of self.
Trying On Different Identities
As a result, teens will often “try on” different belief systems, personal styles, and interests. All too often, teens will explore beliefs or ideas that starkly contrast with those of their parents. This can begin to worry or upset parents coming to my office. While understandable, I try to reassure parents this is all very normal and typically will come full circle at some point.
My Own Personal Journey as a Teen
While I am far from my teenage years, I still recall my own personal journey with identity at this age. I think I passed through every possible clothing and hairstyle known to man while also dabbling in various religious beliefs from the occult to full-on “Bible Thumper” status.
I was lucky to have parents who let me explore (within limits), my own interests, but I still recall where I found a fun hot button: Football. There was nothing more fun than sitting in on a Sunday football game and rooting for the opposing team as if I was a major fan. Honestly, I didn’t care. I was just exploring my new power to annoy. Oh, the fun of being a tad oppositional!
Perfectly Normal Behaviors
As a mental health professional specializing in teen and teen counseling, I can now see what I was doing was perfectly normal and expected for a teen at this stage. When your teenager starts to act in ways opposite to who you are, recognize this as a normal and even healthy stage of development.
So how does this relate to body image and self-esteem?
It is all interconnected. During adolescence, the brain is going through some incredible changes. Part of these changes include the ability to increase abstract thinking which allows a teen to contemplate ideas such as loyalty and trust. Even more importantly, they can access a powerful tool of the brain called metacognition. This big word basically just means to think about your thinking. As a result, teenagers are better able to ponder their own thoughts and emotions.
The Realization That Others Have Perceptions About Them
While this is an important skill, it can initially come off as a tad self-absorbed as they realize others have thoughts and perceptions about them. They naturally become more self-conscious and potentially insecure if they perceive those perceptions to be negative.
Add to this that they have got to fully learn how to plan and think through long-term consequences and it can get even trickier. Imagine posting something or trying on a new outfit without fully thinking through the consequences, only to receive negative feedback from peers! This can begin to get very tricky, fast.
Now take all of that and add in the shifting hormones and changes that take place in the body all happening at the same time! You can see this begins to get very confusing and a lot to manage for a young person.
Social Media and the Effects on Body Image and Self-Esteem
So now that you understand the tasks of adolescence AND how teens are extra concerned with how others perceive them, throw social media into the mix and you have a whole new complication. Teens are spending more than 5 hours a day on social media or playing video games.
Extensive Exposure to Opportunities for Comparison
This means they are exposed to hours and hours of opportunities for comparisons, criticism, and outside influence. This is creating concern given how vulnerable teens are during this stage of development. In fact, several articles and research studies show the positive impacts of limiting social media concerning self-esteem and body image. When we remove opportunities for negative comparisons, we can help teens refocus on their positive attributes and health exploration.
What Can Parents Do to Help Their Teens?
Be a Safe Space for Exploration
Going back to my story, the best thing you as a parent can do is foster an environment of support and acceptance as your teen tries new things. Maybe you don’t love that outfit your child wants to wear to school, but if it is not inappropriate, let them give it a try. Allow them to experiment within healthy limits and give them the freedom to be different from you. Chances are, sooner or later, they will decide they are more like you than they realized anyway.
Provide Real World Experiences
Help give opportunities for connection outside of social media. When your child has outside activities such as sports, dance, band, chess club, art club, church, or any other place to engage, they have an opportunity to engage in real-world ways. They will have the opportunity to try hard things along with others in realistic and unfiltered places where they can give and receive encouragement and empathy.
Avoid Criticism and Comparisons
When you have feedback for your teen, don’t compare them to their peers, your friends’ children, or other siblings. Trust me, they are doing this enough without your help. Instead, try to point out where they are doing well and what strengths you see in them.
If you have specific things you see as opportunities for growth, approach them using a gentle start-up. As a tip, try to delete the word “you” when providing feedback. For example: “I feel frustrated when the dishes are put in the dishwasher at night” versus “I am tired of you being lazy and not doing the dishes”.
Watch your Body Behavior.
Your teen is watching you. If you constantly worry about your appearance, call yourself fat, or comment on other peoples’ appearance, your teen will begin to worry you are doing the same to them. Remember how I said they are comparing themselves to others? This means you too! Try modeling some self-love and self-acceptance instead.
Is Your Teen Showing Signs of Needing The Support of a Teen Therapist in Katy, TX? Reach Out to Start Therapy for Teens Today.
Remember, it can be normal for teenagers to experience some difficulty as their bodies change, hormones rage, and their brains develop. That said, if your teenager shows signs of disordered eating, mood changes, depression, or intense social anxiety it may be wise to seek out Teen Counseling from an experienced teen therapist.
- Learn more about our teen counseling team here.
- Fill out our convenient online contact form for more information.
- Begin the journey to getting your teen well – schedule now.
Other Mental Health Services Offered At Katy Counseling
In addition to offering services for teen counseling, we also offer a wide range of services for adults, couples, and children. These services include Play Therapy, Adult Counseling, Counseling for Women, Couples Counseling, Trauma Counseling, and Lens Neurofeedback. Our goal is to meet you where you are and help guide you through the issues you are facing in a positive and supportive way.