Today, I’m pleased to present a guest post by freelance writer Maria Rainier, who offers valuable insight into raising healthy teenage girls.

In today’s society, with its pro-dieting and pro-thinness messages, parents definitely have their work cut out for them.

But there are many things parents can do to counteract these unhealthy messages and help their kids cultivate a positive body image and self-image.

Thanks so much, Maria, for your piece!

Having suffered from eating disorders in my 20s, one of the most frightening moments of my life was hearing my teenage daughter ask, “Mom, do I look fat?”

The last thing I wanted was for my daughter to begin down that slippery slope, so I tried saying things to her that helped me come out of my disordered habits, like, “Of course your tummy comes out a little.  You have a womb!”

She didn’t much care for my tactics, and then I remembered that self esteem, body image, and eating disorders are influenced by different things for different people.  My experience was not her experience, and the best things I could do were to be honest with her, inform her, and hope she did the same for me.

1. Start teaching open-mindedness toward physical appearances at a young age.

By age five, children develop tendencies to judge others by physical appearances.  Take a look at Disney films.  Disney princes and princesses have been shaped the same way for the better part of a hundred years, and villains tend to be heavy and stupid or bony and evil.  Is it any wonder that according to NEDIC (National Eating Disorder Information Centre) records, more than 37% of 11-year olds and 48% of 15-year old Canadian females feel that they need to lose weight, or that 81% of 10-year olds are more afraid of gaining weight than losing their parents?  As you teach your daughter the value of ethnic, religious, and other diversities, teach her about physical diversity, too.

2. Treat your own body and that of others with respect.

If your daughter witnesses you restricting your diet, over-exercising, or staring for hours on end into a mirror, she may begin to feel insecure, too.  If you complain about your significant other being over- or underweight, your children will notice.

3. Stay in the know about health, nutrition, exercise, and eating disorders.

If your daughter suddenly begins substituting meals with protein bars, begin asking questions.  Even girls who’ve never before shown signs of physical insecurity can slowly develop habits that lead to disordered eating.

4. Enjoy activities that use the body rather than admire it.

Going shopping with your daughter can be fun, but don’t forget about weekend hiking trips and days swimming in the ocean.  Children who see their bodies as useful and something to be taken care of rather than something to be displayed will be less likely to have poor body image.

5. Enjoy food.

Provide a diverse array of nutritious foods that embrace wholesome and joyful eating rather than scarfing down fast food or protein shakes.

6. Remind your daughter about qualities that matter most, like her honesty, sense of humor and kindness.

7. Remember genetics.

As much as 85% of our bodies’ makeup is determined by our DNA, not just what we eat.

8. Prepare your daughter for the physical changes that come with puberty, not just the birds and the bees.

Some develop quickly, slowly, sooner, later, more, and less than others.  Some girls gain 40 lbs during puberty, and this is natural.

9. Teach your daughter the benefits of healthful living and the pitfalls of dieting.

Remind her that more than 95% of people who go on diets gain the weight back (and more) within 3 years, according to a study by Renfrew Center Foundation.  This is the same principle as telling a child to not eat any cookies from the cookie jar; the next time you look, all the cookies will be gone.  Meanwhile, telling a child to eat what his or her body needs instead of what his or her eyes want can be infinitely healthier for both the mind and the body.

10.  Keep other parental figures in the loop.

Moms, dads, and other role models serve different roles in each child’s body image and self-esteem and must remain attentive and supportive.

Maria Rainier is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where she writes about education, online degrees, and what it takes to succeed as a student getting an associates degree remotely from home. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Do you have other suggestions on raising girls with a healthy body image? What would you like today’s parents to know about raising healthy girls and boys? What resonated with you from Maria’s post?