tween sees in the mirror
enormously to your pre-teen. Here’s how to promote a positive
about body image loom large in a preteen’s world. From growing
taller and changing shape in the years leading up puberty to the
roller-coaster ride of confidence about physical appearance,
your tween will struggle with her feelings about who she sees
looking back at her in the mirror.
Worries can be as mild as “I wish my legs were longer” or “My
calves are too fat — they’re gross!” to the more alarming “I
hate everything about myself.”
These fears can be triggered by a variety of factors. One
obvious source is the peer pressure. Both girls and boys face
heavy pressure from friends and advertisements to look a certain
way by wearing particular fashions or owning status accessories
like cell phones or even school bags.
It is very easy for tweens to view these items as part of their
overall body image and believe that not having a particular
brand of pants or sneakers makes them not okay as opposed to
simply not looking okay.
Add to this the cult of celebrity and the creeping sexualisation
of childhood, plus the media obsession with thin, sexy models,
movie stars, cosmetics, and “nip-and-tuck” jobs, and it’s no
surprise that many impressionable female tweens are conflicted
about their looks.
They may become convinced that they’re acceptable, likeable, and
popular only if they present themselves as an alluring,
perfectly shaped female. Tween girls, and increasingly boys as
well, can become truly distressed that some aspect of their face
or body is not perfect — and there are so many parts to inspect
Boys can obsess over ears that stick out, over-curly hair, or
big knees as much as girls do about eyebrows, lips, stomachs, or
butts. Their increasing fixation on body image leads some to
work out in gyms and use weights far too soon; growing bones and
muscles can be damaged by such strain.
Preparing for puberty
The pursuit of perfection is not healthy, and public
campaigns for healthier living and eating can add another layer
to preteen anguish and calorie obsession long before anyone
needs to worry. Prepubescent children often get chubby in
preparation for their growth spurt.
Girls in particular will fill out unevenly as their bodies begin
to take an adult shape — of which they should be proud, not
ashamed. Younger tweens can naturally be very slight, but
beware: If you heap praise on them at this stage for being slim,
they could be tempted to eat less and defy puberty to stay that
A growing tween needs a full and properly balanced diet that
includes both fat and sugar to meet a range of neurological and
physical developmental needs. A healthy, low-fat diet is not a
Children can also become ill and unbalanced without any fat
intake. From the age of 10, a girl should gain up to 11 pounds a
year as a normal part of growing. Boys’ growth surge starts, on
average, two years later, from about 12 years old and onward.
Two related problems are, of course, obesity and binge eating.
Tweens that simply don’t have the genetic material to have a
“perfect” body shape, or who are unhappy in other ways, may
console themselves through comfort eating unless families make
it absolutely clear that a young person is lovable and beautiful
whatever her shape or size.
How you can help
We know from research that children as young as five years
old are aware of diet and healthy eating and see being slim as
highly desirable. To head off problems and help to reinforce a
positive body image in your tween, try these suggestions:
Always focus on the person inside. Separate who she is from how
she looks, because personality matters more than facial
features, body shape, or fashion. Given the power of the
“glamour” industry and commercials, you simply cannot overdo
this strategy. Comment far more on your tween’s personal
qualities – and other people’s, too – than on how she looks.
Avoid the word “pretty.” If your tween looks great in special
occasion clothes, rather than saying how pretty she looks,
compliment her on her choice of outfit (“That looks really good
on you!”), her creativity, or on his colour coordination or the
care he’s taken.
Compliment both boys and girls on everyday outfits: “Since
you’re going to play in Sam’s yard, it’s great you’ve chosen to
wear those easy-wash items.”
Stay affectionate and physical, even though they’re growing
older. If the cuddles stop, a tween could think you’re finding
him unattractive now that he is taller or bigger or has more of
an adult shape.
Counter negative self-talk. When you hear “I’m no good, I’m
ugly, my hair’s too wild,” respond with “You look really great.
I don’t know what you’re seeing, so I want to hear no more of
this.” Never comment on your tween’s skin blemishes or face or
body shape. Say you hadn’t noticed, or never notice, if they
point things out to you.
Keep your own personal diet issues clear of the family meal
table. This talk is for your friends only, as it can plant
Look in a mirror with your tween and ask what she sees. Then
tell her what you see, and describe the person, not the body.
Respond to any worrying weight gain with new routines for extra
exercise, not diets. The research is clear that strict diets and
total bans for these children can cause more harm than good,
leading to secret eating and bingeing.
Your tween may not appear to be listening to you when you offer
a proper perspective on body image, but be assured she does hear
you. Keep it positive and you can help her manage the mirror.
(Parent & Child magazine)