My 14-year-old daughter seems to be obsessed about her appearance all of a sudden. She spends hours in the bathroom and on her makeup, constantly asks for reassurance, and can't pass a mirror without looking at it. Is this normal?
It's normal for teens to spend lots of time grooming, and that can feel like an abrupt change from the school-age years when it was a challenge to get them to even brush their hair. Though teen boys tend to be less vocal about it than girls, they may be just as concerned about their looks.
While you might feel frustrated that your teen is so concerned with something that seems superficial, remember that underneath all that lip gloss, a deeper maturation process is occurring. During the teen years, kids are developing a sense of self-awareness, exploring who they are inside, trying out varying personalities and attitudes, and experimenting with different looks to match.
Be empathetic and patient, but if necessary, set boundaries on how much time your daughter can spend on primping. After all, she still has to get to school on time, share the bathroom, do homework, and help around the house. Setting limits can help teens learn to manage time, be considerate of others' needs, share resources, and exercise a little self-discipline.
A teen whose concerns or insecurities consume a lot of energy or cause significant distress might have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), an uncommon condition in which a person will exhibit obsessions and compulsions about appearance that can disrupt everyday functioning.
Unfortunately, it's common for teens to develop a negative body image or dissatisfaction with some aspect of their appearance. It doesn't help that the media and peer pressure can send powerful messages about the importance of looks and what's acceptable or ideal.
Parents play an important role in helping their teens develop a healthy body image. Besides complimenting appearances, praise the inner qualities that make your son or daughter a beautiful person. And teen girls are starting to care about how they appear to boys, so when a dad gives positive feedback to his daughter, that reassurance means a lot.
And remember to be a good role model. If you criticize your own looks, your teen is likely to see a harsh critic in the mirror too. Set a good example by talking positively, appreciating your body for what it can do, and accepting its imperfections.
For more information, check out these articles:
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
How Can I Help My Child Develop Healthy Self-Esteem?
For Teens: Body Image and Self-Esteem
For Teens: A Guy's Guide to Body Image
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: January 2010
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