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Camber Children's Mental Health

Supporting Teens in Navigating Body Image and Self-Esteem Challenges

Teen Outcast Waiting for Call, Portrait of Asian teenage girl holding smartphone outdoors while sitting on metal stairs with group of friends in background

It’s no secret that teens are prone to insecurities about body image and self-worth. Being a teenager in today’s culture — with constant connectivity and access to social media — has made body image issues even more prevalent, leading parents and caregivers to struggle with how to best support the teens in their lives.

Self-esteem is a key factor in how teens (and children and adults too!) feel about their bodies and themselves. Let’s explore how parents and caregivers can help children cultivate self-esteem from an early age. Building a positive body image foundation today for when they face challenges and insecurities tomorrow.

The Impact of Social Media on Self-Esteem and Body Image

“Teens are at that age where they naturally have lower self-esteem because their body is changing, their hormones are changing and they’re learning about themselves,” explains Courtney Keener, Associate Clinical Director at Camber Children’s Mental Health in Hays, KS.

Adolescents, ages 10 to 19, are undergoing a highly sensitive period of brain development. It is during this time that risk-taking behaviors reach their peak, wellbeing fluctuates, and mental health challenges such as depression typically emerge. Additionally, in early adolescence, their identities and sense of self-worth are still forming. During this time, brain development is especially susceptible to social pressures, peer opinions and comparison.

Courtney Keener, Associate Clinical Director

“It’s a very vulnerable time for teens, and what they see on social media can greatly influence what they believe they should or should not look like or do or feel.” – Courtney Keener, Associate Clinical Director

Social media has become a magnifying glass for comparison. It’s a challenge that teens don’t get a break from. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, up to 95% of youth ages 13 to 17 report using a social media platform, with more than one-third saying they use social media “almost constantly.” This access to social media weighs heavily on children and teens, giving them a rush of endorphins that can be extremely addictive.

On the body image side of social media, influencers are popular among teens today. Fitness and fashion influencers offer “easy” (but unrealistic!) weight loss methods and highlight reels of a difficult-to-achieve body standard. “Social media definitely encourages negative self-esteem and negative self-image, when you are constantly able to open your phone and on any platform compare yourself to someone else,” Keener observes.

Combating Comparison Culture

A young woman is holding her mobile phone up to take a photo of herself in front of a large mirror in a modern bedroomThis level of comparison and constant awareness of peers and influencers through social media has had a major impact on the mental health of teens today. According to the Mental Health Foundation, as many as 40% of teens say images on social media cause them to worry about body image

So how do parents help their children avoid content that inevitably leaves them insecure and unsure of themselves? Here are some tips to help your teen take much-needed breaks from the social media scroll:

Screen time limits: Establish a cut-off time after which children and teens need to take a break from their devices. For example, after dinner each evening, your teen must power down and plug in their phone and/or tablet in another room. Other options for limiting screen time include apps that regulate use time frames and restrict access.

Limit social media accounts: Many social media platforms are available to teenagers today — and they don’t need to be active on all of them! Limit how many social media platforms they use and accounts they have. This allows you to more safely monitor and discuss their online activities.

Loving mother listening to daughter with empathy and understanding while sitting together on sofa bonding at home, pre-teen girl child sharing secrets with mom, parent communicating with teenagerBe a safe space: Children and teens need to have a safe space where they can be honest and work through their self-esteem struggles. By establishing healthy communication and being a safe, open, supportive resource to your child from a young age you empower them to come to you when they need to talk something out or work through body image issues.

Build confidence: Support your child’s passions and interests, and focus on positive reinforcement rather than criticism. 

Have honest conversations: Talk to your children about what they’re seeing on social media, in pop culture and in advertising. Keener explains, “It all goes back to building those relationships with your child as they grow, because it’ll be much easier to have open conversations when you come to them.”

Signs a Teen May Struggle with Negative Body Image

Regardless of social media influence, teenagers in general are especially susceptible to a negative body image. But what’s the difference between normal growing pains and true body image struggles?

Teenager sitting on the bed and sending text, playing gamesBeing aware of your child or teen’s interests and personality will make it much easier as a caregiver to notice signs that they may be struggling with negative body image. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Withdrawing from things they usually find enjoyable
  • Spending a lot of time in their room
  • Changing the way that they dress (i.e., hiding their body beneath very baggy clothing)
  • Negative comments toward themselves
  • Not wanting to attend events they previously were interested in
  • Changes in diet and negative comments about food
  • Changing their peer group or avoiding talking to and hanging out with friends

If you notice a young person exhibiting these symptoms, the first step is to try and have an open conversation with them about how they’re feeling. Keep in mind that they might not be ready to have this conversation, so don’t force it if they’re resistant. Pay close attention to the warning signs and focus on having a positive relationship in which you are a safe space for your child. Then they will feel comfortable coming to you if they are struggling.

Creating a Supportive Environment

Creating a supportive and safe environment for developing a healthy body image starts at a very young age, while still developing a sense of who they are and what they’re interested in. By keeping interactions positive and strengths-focused, you can help your child to grow into a teen who feels comfortable being themselves and expressing their thoughts openly with you. 

Here are a few specific ways you can create a healthy, supportive environment for your child from a young age:

African American Mother and Her Teenage Son Playing on Basketball Court. Sport, People and Healthy Lifestyle Concept

Lead by Example

Strive to model a healthy mindset yourself when it comes to your appearance. As the saying goes, “We can’t be what we can’t see” — and it’s hard for children to have healthy self-esteem when their role models do not. Try to avoid criticizing yourself or negative self-talk in front of your children, and take time for self-reflection to ensure you have positive self-esteem so you can illustrate that to your children. And if you are having your own struggles with self-esteem and body image, model self-compassion and grace.

Focus on Strengths

Praise and compliment your child regularly, specifically in regard to their interests or things they do well rather than their appearance. Ask your child about their interests and encourage them to pursue things they enjoy doing. Affirm these strengths and find ways to empower them, like encouraging them to join clubs, community groups, or sports teams that align with their interests and strengths. While it’s okay to compliment your child’s outward appearance, it’s crucial for your child to hear praise about who they are and know they’re celebrated for who they are, not what they look like.

Celebrate Success, Embrace Failure

Celebrate your child’s accomplishments and acknowledge that mistakes are okay. No one is good at everything, and your child needs to know that it’s okay to fail. This builds both resilience and confidence and helps your child establish a self-image that’s sturdy even when they struggle.

Don’t Be Overly Critical

Criticism sometimes comes from a well-meaning place. After all, most parents criticize because they want what is best for their child. But be careful, as too much criticism can be received as judgment and leave children feeling insecure. Especially avoid any criticism revolving around body image or food, instead use positive reinforcement in those areas.

How Camber Can Help

When body image struggles get in the way of everyday life and cause depression, anxiety or thoughts of self-harm, professional care can offer hope and healing. At Camber, we offer multiple services to help children and their parents feel more equipped to handle body image difficulties and build up positive self-image.

Here are some Camber resources to help you address body image and self-esteem challenges:

Here’s a list of additional resources you can contact for help:

  • Talk to the child’s primary care physician, your local community mental health center or a school counselor
  • Text HOME to 741741 for 24/7 support from the Crisis Text Line
  • Call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 800-950-6264 or visit their website at
  • Call the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or

If you’re considering seeking treatment for a child or teen in your care, contact us to learn more and ask about how we can help!

Call us at (913) 890-7468