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This article was contributed by Dove Self-Esteem Project

The Dove Self-Esteem Project provides teachers, family workers and parents with free resources to help raise young people's body confidence and self-esteem. Teachers and professionals can download free resources to deliver self-esteem workshops to young people.

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Parents are from earth, teens are from a galaxy far, far away

Your biddable child has turned into a temperamental teen - someone who doesn’t tell you what’s going on - and who, when you try to talk to them, rejects what you have to say. It’s easy to feel they might as well be living on a distant planet for all the sense you’re making to one another.

Young people are under enormous pressure. They’re bombarded by images suggesting how they need to look and how they need to be. They’re trying to filter these expectations at the same time as managing their growing sense of their own difference.
This can have a serious impact on a young person’s self-esteem, making them feel they don’t match up, that they’re not good enough. Parents can help enormously by reassuring them that they’re doing just fine - but it’s hard to do that when you’re struggling to communicate with each other.

The Dove Self-Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me parents’ guide, which you can download for free, has lots of ideas for how to break through the communication barriers.

Young people are faced with pressures from social media, from advertising, films, television and magazines, as well as from their friends. This all comes at a time when their bodies and brains are changing and they’re more likely to be affected by peer pressure,  more impulsive, and less likely to think about risks and the future.
The combination of impressionability and lack of communication can understandably make parents panic.

It can be hard to get through to your child when everyone’s so busy, when a lot of the things that worry young people feel embarrassing to them, and, when they do talk, they feel misunderstood. It’s important to keep at it, though, says Peter Fanagy, Professor of Contemporary Psychoanalysis and Developmental Science at UCL: good communication matters ‘not just in terms of driving forward a positive body image, but for self-esteem and attitude towards school.’

As Chapter 7 of the Uniquely Me parents’ guide shows, it’s easy to misinterpret each other. You might say you wish your daughter wouldn’t wear so much makeup. What she hears is that you think she’s not old enough for makeup, and you probably don’t want boys to like her anyway - although what you mean is that you think she’s beautiful enough already and you don’t want her to feel too much pressure to grow up too quickly. 

The Dove Self-Esteem Project’s free-to-download guide has a helpful parent-teen translator to help you avoid these pitfalls, so that when you offer your opinions it doesn’t feel to them like nagging, and they don’t think you’re ignoring their feelings.

As your child grows, the way you communicate with them needs to change. Here are some tips for getting your message across:

  • When it comes to sensitive issues, especially about looks, listen as much - and probably more - than you speak.
  • Make sure you celebrate their achievements and let them know that you think they look wonderful.
  • Spend time together and talk about things that don’t divide you.
  • Pick your battles. You’re probably going to have to have some difficult conversations. It may be that you don’t need to fight about their sense of fashion.
  • Take an interest in their interests, and learn what they like (and don’t like) about their friends.
  • Give them privacy, even if you have to grit your teeth to do it.
  • Empathise: let them know you appreciate the pressures on them, and you understand their frustrations.
  • Find gentle ways to express yourself: ‘I wonder if…?’ ‘Have you thought about…?’ ‘This makes me feel…’
  • Lower your own defences. Acknowledge you might not always get it right yourself.
  • Keep talking!

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‘Uniquely me’ is packed with advice and practical activities for parents to help nurture their children's body confidence and self-esteem. It contains advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action.

Download your free ‘Uniquely Me’ parent guide

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