If you have an overweight child, how secure is she with her body image? Between social media, television, film, and advertising, today’s generation of young girls and boys are even more exposed to conflicting messages about their bodies. Today’s teen spends a large part of her day perfecting and correcting her body image trying to achieve an unrealistic outcome. This never-ending struggle for perfection can leave your teen not only dissatisfied with the way she looks but also the way she feels about herself, both emotionally and physically.

Early patterns inform your adult behavior, and to the extent that you can acknowledge and recognize those patterns, you have an opportunity to integrate them, so that they don’t control and compel you. How your child views her body image can become a powerful pattern that may impact both her self-esteem and feelings of self-worth… forevermore. Teasing and peer-group criticism has a tremendous power over your teen, can cause insecurity, and in extreme cases, dysmorphia – a condition that creates dissatisfaction with body image. In an effort to correct an imperfect body perception, your teen can resort to destructive behavior such as vomiting, bulimia, anorexia, extreme exercising, and insecure social experiences. These problems, if not treated, can follow your child into adulthood.

Parents have the power. 

Parents have much more influence over their children than peer groups do. By partnering with your child, sharing your feelings and values about both food and friendship, you can support her fears and doubts, while modeling healthy eating patterns. By using my empathic process to communicate and actively listen without defense, you will invest your child in her own style of self-managing both her weight and emotions.

Further, if you create a healthy home, filled with good, fresh, and low-calorie foods, including fruit and vegetable options, instead of candy, cake, and ice cream, your child will feel that you are supporting her, that you are with her, and that she can count on you. Be what you want to see. Children learn through social modeling. Be authentic and follow a healthy routine yourself, including exercise and good food. This will go a long way to a healthy weight outcome for your child.

Signs to watch for

Know your child. Look for changes in eating, weight, bathroom time, medications, sleep, and social changes. If things get out of hand, seek professional help. Parents are entitled to parent, so supervise your child and know her peer group, and what influence the group has on her.

Unhealthy messages in the media

Feedback is often missing in a celebrity-driven, thin culture. Sons and daughters caught in the web of body dysmorphia, see themselves unrealistically. Pressure from media, especially on the young, including elementary school children, is especially destructive, and it has long-term effects, not just from the pressure to be perfect, but from the fear of not being perfect. Self-criticism in children without coping skills can be so painful, that it can even cause death. Whether it’s social media, magazine and television advertisements, or models on a runway, your child can be receiving unhealthy messages, that may cause her to develop unhealthy strategies – trying to create and maintain a consumer-driven physique.

Time to get real

We can get real. I call this my “keep it real” campaign, since 80 percent of all 10-year-old American girls have already been on a diet and have lost touch with a normal body image. Knowledge is power and educating your child about body changes in adolescence, as well as pointing out the unrealistic body types created by air-brushed celebrities, can help your child embrace her normal body image.  Maintaining a healthy body has its own advantages and can help your teen feel good, both mentally and physically. Then she can focus on her relationship with herself, her self-esteem, and her authentic peer-group.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.