By the time your son or daughter reaches the teenage years, they will inevitably be involved and immersed in many interests as they explore their developing skills, talents, and passions. One of the most common pass times that teens typically enjoy at various degrees during adolescence and beyond is athletics.
Participating in athletics is a fantastic way for your teen to stay healthy and fit, while learning the value of teamwork, respect, and hard work. Playing sports can also build self-esteem and help your teen form healthy bonds of friendship as they learn how to handle success and defeat.
However, as you teen begins to develop athletic skills and pursuits, they will also become more aware of their bodies and how they compare to their peers and any athletic icons they look up to as role models and motivation.
Unfortunately, this heightened body scrutiny and comparison can give way to unhealthy body image issues and evolve into eating disorders very quickly if your teen is not equipped with a strong sense of what it means to be healthy, strong, and athletic. In fact, according to the National Mental Health Institute, 2.7 percent of teens age thirteen to eighteen have struggled with some type of eating disorder.
According to the National Eating Disorders Association, here are four ways that you can help support a healthy body image in your teen athlete to protect them from developing dangerous, unhealthy eating or training habits:
Understand eating disorders and other body image issues your teen may face.
It is important to understand that eating disorders do not stem solely from eating or not eating in unhealthy manners. Eating disorders are a symptom of a much deeper mental, emotional, or psychological issue that may be plaguing the happiness and well-being of your teen. Make sure that you do the research on what different body image issues and eating disorders exist, and fully understand how they may impact your teen as they strive to excel in athletics.
Know how to identify if your teen is struggling with their body image or suffering from an eating disorder.
To keep your teen healthy and safe, know the warning signs and symptoms to look for that may provide you early warning into a potential problem. Most teenagers will not come forward openly with their body image or eating disorder problems, so you will need to begin the open, honest, supportive conversation if you witness the warnings. According to the Mayo Clinic, warnings of an eating disorder may include:
- Abnormally low body weight
- Fear of weight gain
- Distorted body image
- Expressions of self-hatred or loathing
- Excessively limiting calories or food intake
- Escaping to the rest room immediately after a meal
- Refusing to eat
- Vomiting after meals
- Use of weight loss pills or laxatives
Talk to your teen about their athletic role models, and help them identify healthy bodies and training regimes.
As the Summer Olympics quickly approaches, your teens will be watching with added excitement and attention as the very best competitors in their favorite sports compete for medals. This is a great opportunity to point out healthy, strong bodies and talk to your teen about the best ways to accomplish their fitness goals in a safe manner.
Additionally, there are many athletes who have overcome eating disorders. Sharing these stories of triumph and success can help encourage your teen to open up and seek help if they have been experiencing issues with their body or are developing an unhealthy relationship with eating.
Intervene with support, positivity, and straightforward help when you suspect body image issues or eating disorders in your teen.
If your teen exhibits the warning signals of poor body image or a potential struggle with an eating disorder, you should intervene immediately. When you bring up this topic with your teen, do not speak in judgmental or negative terms. Be open, positive, and straightforward as you encourage your teen to speak openly while you listen. If your teen continues to display unhealthy behaviors after you’ve intervened, it can be immensely helpful to consult the advice of a professional teen counselor to help you reach your teen with tools for an active and healthy approach to athletics and life.