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The Dove Self-Esteem Project: The miscommunication minefield

Body image and self-esteem

Image: Sergey Ryzhov/Shutterstock

Parent Info has partnered with the Dove Self-Esteem Project to offer parents advice and information to help children and young people build confidence and feel good about themselves.

In this article, we look at how learning to speak ‘teenage’ could help communication and build confidence in your child

‘You’re not going out like that are you?’

How is it that you and your child can fall out over the smallest things? Why do they take your well-intentioned comments the wrong way? Talking to young people can be a tricky business and miscommunication is common.

Young people can be hypersensitive and may be suspicious of some of the things you say. Even a compliment or simple observation can be taken the wrong way, leaving you feeling like you can’t say anything right.

One day you might say to your teen: ‘You’re not going out like that are you’ but what they hear is ‘What are you wearing, you look cheap.’

To confuse matters even more, what your comment really meant is ‘You look so grown up and that worries me sometimes.’

So what can you do to help?

Watch the Parent Translator film with your son or daughter (see below). It will help them understand you don't mean to upset them when you talk about their friends, diet and social life, and may improve communication between you.

The mum translator

Talking teenage

Every relationship requires a special way of communicating. By being specific, signalling first and taking the time to talk, you’ll help your child understand what you actually mean when you comment on their outfit or hairstyle, avoiding the miscommunication that can damage their body confidence.

  • Be specific

It’s easy to misinterpret what someone says, so choose your words carefully. Be clear and specific with compliments so your child can’t misinterpret what you’re saying.

  • Signal first

If you want to offer criticism or guidance, signal it first to soften what you're saying, for example: ‘This might be something you won't like me saying, but I think it can come across as rude if you…’

  • Listen carefully

If you’re online or watching TV, stop what you're doing to show you care about the conversation. If it’s something you can’t stop, like driving or dealing with another child, say, ‘I really want to talk about this properly. Can we continue later when I can give you my full attention?’

  • Take your time

Next time your child flares up at something you say, think about exactly what it was – even write it down if you can remember. How specific were you? Was there too much room for interpretation? How could you phrase it better next time?

*Tips from cognitive researcher and psychologist Dr Nancy Etcoff


Read, download or print the free Uniquely Me parent guide

This downloadable pdf contains expert 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. Click on 'Files: Uniquely Me parent guide.pdf' at the foot of the page to download.

Teachers: for free downloadable teaching resources, go to the Dove Self-Esteem Project area on

These pages are brought to you by Parent Zone and the Dove Self-Esteem Project


The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA-CEOP.

First published: May 2017

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