This Mental Health Awareness Week (13-19 May) the theme is body image and how we think and feel about our bodies. Body image issues can affect us all at any age. The advent of smartphones and social media, with constant images and updates on people’s lives, can negatively impact children and teenagers, putting them under increasing pressure which could impact their mental health.
Here Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK, offers some advice on how to help teenagers cope with body image issues.
What advice would you give parents on helping teens cope with their body image?
Young people today are increasingly under pressure. Factors such as stress at school, body-image issues, bullying online and offline, stressful relationships and around-the-clock social media can have a significant impact on their mental health. It’s important for parents to be vigilant and seek the guidance and support of professionals if necessary.
It’s thought that one in 10 children experience mental ill health in some form. Starting a positive conversation with children around body image and physical appearance as well as their wider mental health and wellbeing can help parents to understand any emerging issues.
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to talking to your child about mental health but simply asking your child how they are, rather than telling them that you’re worried about them, is likely to start you off on the right foot.
How important do you feel it is for parents to talk about body image and body confidence with teenagers? Should parents be talking about this at a younger age with their children?
The earlier we start promoting body positivity and resilience in children as part of a wider conversation about mental health, the better. Body image issues aren’t new, however with the increase in technology and prominence of social media, children may be led to “compare and despair”, viewing themselves unfavourably to the online personas of peers and celebrities.
Recent research by Bupa showed that one in three parents find it hard to talk to their children about mental health – and many find it hard to distinguish between mental ill health and teenage mood swings.
But if we can start conversations at an early age, we can help children see that the images online and in the media are often far from reality, to help lessen the impact on their self-esteem.
There are lots of ways that parents can help to boost mental resilience in their children, to help them cope with pressures during their teenage years. Simple things such as encouraging children to do regular exercise, eat healthily, get enough sleep and write down how they’re feeling when they struggle to articulate it, can all help.
We talk a lot about the impact of body confidence and body positivity on young women; do we overlook young men in these conversations? Should parents approach talking to teenage boys using any different methods or focal points?
Mental health issues can affect any of us regardless of age or gender, so parents should try to encourage good self-esteem and body confidence in boys and girls equally.
For a child or teenager struggling with poor mental health, early diagnosis is key to aiding recovery. Coming forward with a mental health concern can help children to receive the support they need, so parents concerned about their child’s body image perceptions should try to start a dialogue. Each child is different and there isn’t a one-size-fits all solution to any mental health concerns they may have. Ask them questions and listen to their responses without judgement to help determine what help they may need.
What can parents do to encourage teens to seek help with body image issues if they are reluctant, unwilling or unable to talk to them?
Talking about mental health can be difficult for parents. We’ve developed a guide on children’s mental health, which provides tips and guidance to help you start an important conversation about mental health with your children. If your child is struggling to put how they’re feeling into words, encourage them to write things down.
There are also charities set up to help young people with their mental health and body image issues. Young Minds is an excellent source of advice for children and parents.