Ask the Expert: Help me deal with my teen’s insecurities

There is big pressure on young women to be physically attractive and to conform to having a certain body shape and appearance.  Photograph: Getty Images

There is big pressure on young women to be physically attractive and to conform to having a certain body shape and appearance. Photograph: Getty Images

Tue, Apr 8, 2014, 01:00

Q My 14-year-old daughter, who used to be a happy, confident child, has become quite introverted and lack ing in confidence. She makes lots of comments, putting herself down and implying that she is not attractive.

For example, when watching TV she will mention how some skinny girl on the screen is “gorgeous” or “has a great figure”, somehow implying she is not.

As her dad, I, of course, contradict her saying I think the one on the TV is ugly and that she is beautiful but she just rolls her eyes at me.

Recently, she has been particularly down in the dumps and let slip that someone in school had made an unflattering comment about her appearance which really upset her (she wouldn’t say what it was).

Trying to be helpful, I told her that I thought the person was an idiot, but she got annoyed and said I don’t understand what it is like .

I don’t like her feeling this way. What can I do to help her see that she is beautiful just the way she is and not to be bothered by what people say?

A Your question highlights the big pressure on young women (and indeed on many young men) to be physically attractive and to conform to having a certain body shape and appearance.

This can lead to a lot of upset and misery for teenagers and pre-teens if they start comparing themselves with so-called “ideals” in the media and casting themselves in a negative light. At the best of times, becoming a teenager is a challenging journey.

Teenagers have to cope with huge changes to their bodies, increased sexual drive as well as pressure to fit in with their peer group and to succeed in education and life. As you have discovered, sometimes a happy and confident pre-teen can become awkward and lacking in confidence once these pressures hit, which can be hard to witness as a parent.

As a parent, it is hard to reassure your teenager during these difficult times as frequently they become more private and don’t confide in you about their feelings.

In addition, their peer group become much more important to them and it is to this group that they increasingly look to for reassurance and affirmation, meaning that while your opinions matter, they only go so far in the face of what their peer groups think.

This is, of course, all part of normal adolescent development and the goal as a parent is to continue to be supportive, understanding and influential.

There is a lot you can do to help, and your attitude as a parent can be crucial in helping your daughter develop a secure sense of self in the long term.


Try to listen and encourage your daughter to talk
When the subject of attractiveness comes up, try to encourage your daughter to express her thoughts and feelings, before you express your own.

For example, if she makes a comment about something on TV, first encourage her to say some more – “Really, why do you think that?” – before you express an opinion.

It is especially important to listen if she is upset about something. For example, when she is upset by an unflattering comment from a peer, acknowledge how hard it must be to get a comment like that and encourage her to express more about what happened.

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