Oftentimes, body image concerns begin to arise in adolescence as children become more aware of their own identities and explore self-expression through physical appearance. During this time, it is more common for children to start expressing themselves through clothing choices and voicing desires to “fit in” with their peers. While this is developmentally appropriate behavior, there are times when adolescents and teens may feel distressed or overly focused on their appearances. A couple of telltale signs your child or teen is struggling with body image concerns are behaviors called “body checking” and “body avoidance.”
Body checking is a term used to describe excessive self-evaluation including behaviors such as frequently looking in the mirror, comparing the size of one’s body parts to those of others, and pinching skin to feel for fat.
These behaviors often occur in response to negative thoughts (e.g., “I am fat”) about the body or appearance accompanied by strong emotions (e.g., sadness, worthlessness). Engaging in body checking behaviors further perpetuates these thoughts and feelings.
Similarly, body avoidance behaviors occur as a response to these kinds of thoughts and feelings. Body avoidance develops as a way to escape from evaluation by the self and others and often exacerbates feelings of worthlessness. Body avoidance behaviors may include wearing baggy clothes, averting eyes from mirrors when changing, and avoiding photos or reflections of oneself.
How Parents Can Help
When parents observe their children experiencing negative thoughts about their bodies and exhibiting body checking behaviors, they often try to help by discouraging their children from engaging with these thoughts and behaviors. While these are wonderful intentions, it is often more productive to approach these subjects with non-judgmental curiosity. For example, instead of telling your child not to compare themself to their peers, ask them to tell you more about what makes them feel this way.
Additionally, parents can support children struggling with body image concerns by modeling neutral language and behavior related to the body. Instead of commenting, “you look great in that bikini,” compliment the child’s style or color choice. Furthermore, it is important that caregivers avoid making disparaging comments about their own bodies and avoid engaging in body checking and body avoidance themselves.
Kids and teens struggling with body image are often extremely sensitive to even the most minor behaviors or passing remarks related to appearance. Just as parents or caregivers may be experiencing body changes due to age, adolescents are experiencing just as many changes in their own bodies! Even though it may seem harmless to comment on a wrinkle or gray hair, kids and teens are absorbing these messages and making judgments about their own bodies.
Getting Professional Support
If you are noticing that your child is experiencing any of these behaviors, it is imperative to seek professional support. Oftentimes, these thoughts and behaviors develop as precursors to more serious concerns, including anxiety, depression and disordered eating. In therapy, your child’s therapist can help them build awareness of these behaviors and the thoughts and feelings that accompany them. Your therapist will likely ask you or your child to start tracking some of these behaviors and experiences. A great way to prepare for the first appointment is to fill-out a body checking/ body avoidance tracker such as the one below.
At Balanced Minds Psychology & Wellness we specialize in assisting teens and children with navigating life’s challenges. To learn more about myself and the services I provide, checkout my profile. If you are ready to start the therapy process, contact us today to start a free consultation, either over telehealth or in person!