Teen athletes, no matter what sport, may feel the pressure to lose weight and achieve the perfect thin body. Girls, especially, may feel the most pressure to have a leaner, lithe body instead of one that is strong and muscular. It’s important for parents, coaches, teachers, and even other teens to take action to help promote a healthier body instead of a skinny, weak physique. Here are 10 ways to encourage your teen athlete to have a healthy body and self-image instead of one that values extreme weight loss and being skinny.
1. Educate Her About Eating Disorders
First, parents and other adults should not be afraid to talk to teens about eating disorders. Talking about an eating disorder won’t mean your child will attempt some of the strategies of disordered eating. Explain to your teen what some of the types of eating disorders are, such as bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Describe them as illnesses and explain what some of the side effects of these diseases are.
2. Identify Unrealistic Beauty Standards in Media
Another way to help your child with her self image is to address how women’s bodies are portrayed in the media. Women in movies, television, and on social media may not always represent the reality of how a woman’s body really looks. Show your child the prevalence of using filters, makeup, plastic surgery, and other enhancers that may not be realistic. Highlight famous women athletes in the media who have different body types that are also strong and fit.
3. Focus on Healthy Eating
At home, you and your family can help your children manage their weight and practice normal, healthy eating habits. Make sure your menu of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners is filled with wholesome, nutritious foods. Avoid having your children skip meals or overload on the junk food. Talk about the dangers of dieting and focus more on consistently making healthy choices.
4. Exercise as a Family
Besides nutritious eating, you can also encourage your children to be fit and at a healthy weight through exercise. Schedule family activities together that keep everyone moving at least once a day for 30 minutes or more. You can do walks around the neighborhood after dinner each night, or you can invest in buying bicycles for everyone for riding. Limit screen time for your kids and make sure you and your family are getting out of the house and going outside regularly. This way, even the adults can stay active and fit.
5. Participate in Different Sports
Next, it’s important for you to encourage your children to maintain an active lifestyle through consistent sports activities. Signing up your children for youth sports throughout the year can help motivate them to aim for a stronger, fitter body instead of a small, skinny one. In some sports, it’s important to pay attention to the rate of athletes and eating disorders. Individual sports, such as gymnastics or figure skating, may put more of a focus on weight and body size, so be careful about what type of message your teen athlete is getting from his or her coaches.
6. Model Healthy Habits
No matter how much you make an effort to encourage your child to be fit and healthy, your own habits could also potentially lead to someone else’s disordered eating. Parents, most importantly, have to examine their own relationship with their body and food. If you’re always on a diet, scrutinizing yourself in the mirror, and saying negative things about your own body, it won’t be long before your child imitates your behavior. Be kinder to yourself and make sure you practice healthy habits.
7. Raise Your Child’s Self Esteem
A poor body image may also be part of a larger problem if your child has low self-esteem. From an early age, it’s vital to help your child feel good about herself and make her realize she is more than just a number on the scale. Encourage her to develop a variety of passions and talents. Make sure she has plenty of opportunities to make friends and spend time with loved ones. Additionally, offer her plenty of praise and love so she feels fulfilled.
8. Monitor Social Media and Internet Use
Parents also need to pay careful attention to their teen’s social media and internet use. Online, there are pro-anorexia websites and groups that can sometimes trigger disordered eating and extreme weight loss. If you suspect your child is visiting these online communities, it’s important to put a stop to it to help her get away from toxic messages.
9. Watch Out for Signs of an Eating Disorder
Even parents with the best intentions may be caught off guard if their child’s behavior suddenly changes. Parents should be on the lookout for any signs of disordered eating. If your child seems to pick at his or her food, disappears immediately to the bathroom after each meal, is losing weight suddenly, or seems sad or moody, it may be time to investigate.
10. Get Help if Your Child Needs It
Children who are going through an eating disorder need professional help, so it’s vital to seek assistance if you suspect a problem. You can start to get help by taking your child to his or her pediatrician for a physical exam. If there is a problem, your child’s doctor can refer you to a specialist who can help your teen begin to heal, physically and emotionally.
The battle for physical perfection can sometimes affect children and lead them to feel bad about themselves. You can help your child have a positive self-image and understand her true inner beauty if you focus on these healthy habits.