When my daughter was 11 and in the height of middle school angst, she was told by her very best friend “LOVE your new bathing suit, but I know you bought it because you’re too fat to wear a bikini…” This interaction made my blood boil. Because I know my daughter will never forget it – these words are permanently etched in her soul. So I reached out to my good bud, Ann, who is an expert in this field and figured she could give me (and all of Smarty Charlotte) some professional advice as to how to broach this subject with my girls. We have an amazing 4-part blog series over the next month to help us all navigate teens and body image. Here’s Ann:
Are you struggling with how to talk to your kids about body image and eating disorders? Current statistics show that over half of female teens and about 40% of male teens are dissatisfied with their body size. By the time these same teens become adults they will join the 90% of American adults that report being dissatisfied with their bodies at some point in the lifetime.
Adolesence and pre-adolescence is a time of immense change in a young person’s life. Sometime between the ages of 8 & 17, both boys and girls’ bodies begin to change without any warning or explanation. This is often when body image issues begin to develop and eating disorders often take root. 95 % of Eating Disorders develop between the ages of 12 & 25. The concept of what to eat, and how to look, suddenly changes and food often becomes an enemy, as does their body. Body changes begin approximately one year prior to true signs of puberty, creating yet a larger gap in the understanding of why things are changing. It is common for tweens and teens to then feel an enormous lack of control over what is happening in their body.
As parents of pre-adolescents and adolescents, our role is to educate our sons and daughters as to why and how their bodies will change as a normal part of growing up. Unfortunately, we often are not educated on this ourselves and therefore, don’t have the words or language to explain what is happening. Without warning, our young adolescents’ don’t know how to make sense of their bodies changing and have no basis for what is happening “to them”. In addition, teens and tweens bodies change at different ages, therefore creating a gap, as well, in their ability to relate to other kids their own age.
Males bodies change some during this time period, but it is often a time, as well, that a lot of young males begin working out, therefore decreasing their sense of losing control over what is happening to their bodies. Females have a very different experience. The areas of their bodies that change first include the hips, midsection, thighs and upper arms. Girls often experience this as “fat” and unfortunately bullying can be fierce in this area as well and girls who develop earlier are more apt to be targeted.
Most adolescents gain a good bit of weight and arrive at what will later be within 20% of their actual adult body weight. This is a very difficult process for most and many teens and tweens are already fighting to form their adolescent identity, figure out who they are and who they want to be, and are struggling as well with their feelings towards the opposite sex, the same sex, and in their friendships and relationships in general. It is often a difficult parenting time, as well, and the beginning of the separation of teens from their parents, in the slow process of developing their sense of independence as an adult.
We, as parents, have often had our own body image issues along the way and our society encourages this struggle with the media messages around how we are supposed to look, who we are supposed to be, and what image we are supposed to portray. Our fear, as parents, that we will appear to others as if we are not doing a good job parenting our teens, will often intervene in an attempt to help our kids not be bullied, not experience teasing, and not struggle with feeling “fat”. The messages parents often send are a well intentioned way to assist our teens in losing weight or changing their food and exercise patterns to avoid the pain of feeing “different” or out of the “norm”. In an attempt to be the best possible parent, we inadvertently give the message that concurs with our teens’ belief that they are overweight and need to get “control” of their bodies. This starts a never ending struggle of weight cycling throughout the life cycle and sadly, body image issues then become a focus for a long time to come.
The key to helping your adolescent develop a positive body image revolves around how we parent our kids on food, weight and body size.
Tune in next Friday as Ann reveals her List of Do’s and Don’ts for Parents and significant others in teens lives to help our children develop a positive body image!
Ann Kreindler-Siegel, LCSW, MSW, MAEd, SEP is a Licensed Clinical Social worker in private practice in Charlotte, NC in the SouthPark area and has a dual Master’s degrees in Social Work and Counseling from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. During her career as a therapist, in addition to her specialization in treating people with Eating Disorders and trauma, she has also worked with numerous individuals and couples who have divorced, or are currently divorcing. Ann also teaches parenting workshops and works with many adolescents whose parents are divorced. She has worked in this field for 35 years and is trained in all modalities of therapy. Her most recent training is as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and she has received her SEP certification in 2010. Somatic Experiencing is Ann’s primary modality of practice mixed with psychodynamic, family systems and cognitive behavioral counseling techniques.
After earning the Certificate in Executive Coaching from Queens University in Charlotte, North Carolina, Ann achieved credentialing as a Board Certified Coach (BCC) and a Collaborative Divorce Coach.
As a Collaborative Divorce Coach and licensed and trained mental health professional, Ann can be a valuable resource to divorcing couples. She can assist individuals and families in crafting parenting plans and the negotiations of their lives going forward, as well as settling anxieties that are common during separation and divorce.
Somatic Experiencing techniques are aimed at settling the nervous system and allow smoother transitions and a gentler style of collaboration. Ann continues to work as a therapist in private practice and has added coaching to her career to assist individuals and families to create their best lives going forward. In addition, she has spoken on numerous topics nationally and internationally on Somatic Experiencing, Eating Disorders, parenting, attachment, shame, and coaching.
You can find Ann at www.gently-transition.com.