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4 Things to Say to Middle Schoolers Who Struggle with Body Image

the legs of two middle schoolers, one wearing white shoes the other black shoes, stand awkwardly

Middle schoolers are going through overwhelming physical changes while also facing societal pressure. This combination of trying to adjust to a growing body while conforming to the expectations of peers and social media can quickly lead to confusion and dissatisfaction with their bodies. You can help your tween win their struggle with body image by changing how you speak about their body – and your own.

Take the Focus Off the Physical

Try saying: “I love the way your mind works.” 

Sometimes the best thing to say about someone’s body is nothing at all. Make it a household rule that you don’t comment on anyone’s body, whether it’s your own or a stranger’s. Instead, give compliments based on someone’s personality, effort, skills, etc. 

Pay attention to the way you talk about yourself as well. Our children learn by example. If you’re constantly criticizing your body, they’ll soon start to look for flaws in their own bodies. 

Try compliments like: 

  • “You’re such a good listener, I really appreciate that about you.”

  • “I’m impressed by how hard you worked on that.”

  • “You really seem committed to the basketball team.” 

Practice Positive Self Talk Together

Try saying: “You have the nicest smile, it always makes me smile too!”

If you have to say something about your body or your child’s body, make it something positive. Discuss ways you’re proud of your body. For example, if your child plays sports, discuss how strong they are or how physically skilled they’ve become. “That pirouette you did looked beautiful!”

Don’t point out your child’s acne or extra pounds. They know. Besides, these physical attributes are ever-changing and don’t speak to your child’s skills that they worked so hard to learn (like a pirouette). Keep your positive self-talk about attributes that are permanent (like a nice smile) or a learned skill. 

Try compliments like: 

  • “You’re getting really strong.”

  • “All that practice is clearly paying off.”

  • “I’m proud of how kind you are to your teammates.”

Point Out Unrealistic Messages in the Media

Try saying: “Not everything you see online is real.”

Today’s middle schoolers are bombarded from all sides with social media posts and ads showing unrealistically perfect models. After seeing the same message so many times, it’s easy for middle schoolers to believe that this is how most adults look. 

Discuss with your child how these models are photoshopped and they don’t look like that in real life. Watch this Dove ad for their Real Beauty campaign that shows the exact process a model goes through, from makeup to photoshopping. Watch this video together and discuss how the woman is already beautiful before the photoshopping and emphasize that the people" you see in ads aren’t what they look like in their day-to-day lives.  

Try statements like: 

  • “Every body is different.”

  • “I love you just the way you are.” 

  • “Your worth has nothing to do with your appearance.”

Buy Clothing That Emphasizes Comfort, Not Trends

Try saying: “Do you feel confident in that outfit?”

Don’t let your middle schooler get sucked into the idea of fast fashion. If your child focuses on shopping the latest trends, they may wind up wearing outfits that don’t fit right and make them feel uncomfortable. Instead, when shopping, encourage them to wear whatever they want (within reason), as long as it makes them feel comfortable and confident, no matter what the latest trend is. 

Try saying:

  • “That shirt makes you smile, let’s buy it.”

  • “I want you to wear what makes you comfortable.”

  • “You get to have your own style.” 

Raise a Confident Child

Try saying: "I signed you up for a LeadYouth membership."

Confident children are set up for success no matter what challenges they face as they grow up. At LeadYouth, we teach our learners the public speaking, leadership, and emotional intelligence skills they need to become confident middle schoolers who advocate for themselves and others. Learn more about how our program can boost your child’s confidence.


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