Parents do not always know what to say to their teens who are struggling with body image issues. Teens are constantly bombarded with societal and media messages about ideal beauty and health.

Companies market products aimed at helping them attain unrealistic standards of beauty and thinness. At a young age, children start comparing themselves to models, celebrities, friends, family members, and social media influencers. They begin to recognize their differences and may see them as inadequacies and deficiencies. They may feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment for not having the perfect body. They may judge others for how they look. And, others may judge them to the point of bullying. Too much time spent thinking and worrying about this can lead to lifelong dissatisfaction with how they look and who they are.

While body image issues can be a struggle for any teen, it can be an additional strain on athletes whose bodies are constantly being watched in practice, gym workouts, and games. For golfers, this can mean many hours per day every day under scrutiny. Tournaments in front of crowds and being followed for an entire round can be particularly stressful for golfers who are overly concerned with how they look. This takes energy and focus away from their ability to play their best golf.

Parents often say things such as: “you are beautiful just the way you are”; “don’t listen to what other people say”; “be your own person”; “you have so much going for you”.

These are all great, but teens may not believe it unless they internalize the sentiments themselves. They need to practice fundamental skills and engage in positive self-care behaviors to help them build lifelong body positivity.

So, how do we help our teens internalize and believe in their own body positivity?

Focus on Health

Parents can stress the importance of having overall health as the main goal. Being healthy does not require a specific size and shape. We cannot assume a thin person is healthy or a fat person is not. Total health includes physical, mental, emotional, and social health. Exercise, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, stress-management, socializing with family and friends, and avoiding alcohol, vaping, and drugs are all important aspects of health for teens.

Exercise is Individual

Exercise does not have to mean sweating it out in a gym or playing a sport. The goal of exercise does not have to be to burn a set number of calories, lose weight, or sculpt muscles. Some teens prefer to dance, garden, walk a dog, or practice yoga. Some like to exercise alone and others prefer to do it with a partner or in a class. Whatever their preferences, parents can encourage exercise and movement that is enjoyable and helps teens feel good about their bodies.

Reject Diet Culture and Eat

Diet culture permeates our lives with false promises, misleading messages, and a whole lot of shame and guilt. It is emotionally and physically exhausting to restrict your food intake with rules dictated by an industry that makes money labeling foods as good or bad and hyper-focusing on body size. Instead, recognize that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, eat when you are hungry, eat what tastes good to you (there is no reason to eat kale if you don’t like it!), accept that there is room for all foods in a healthy diet (yes, you can eat ice cream and still be healthy!), and remember that your mind and body need adequate amounts of food to function properly.