Adolescent Body Angst: Middle School Kids & Self Esteem

Posted on

It’s a shared human experience: adolescence and puberty, and all the challenges that go with them as our bodies develop and change. Body image not only affects how we see ourselves, but it also affects how we interact with others and how we behave. Under ideal circumstances, kids develop realistic body images, but not all circumstances are ideal in today’s youth climate. It’s even more perplexing being a tween in a selfie society where peer pressure is no longer limited to friends and classmates but also now includes social media with idealized, often air-brushed images.

Adolescence most commonly refers to the time we transition from children to adults between the ages of 13 and 19.[1]  Puberty, on the other hand, can hit as early as eight or 10 for girls and 10 or 11 for boys. Girls often experience their growth spurt and changes in body shape in the early teen years. Boys typically begin their development around 10 or 11, peaking at around age 14.[2]

Adolescence can be a time of confusion, embarrassment, and discovery, and can bring up issues of individuality and self-identity.[3] A rapidly changing body can cause worry as physical development often occurs before mental, social, and emotional maturity.[4] This disconnect can lead to discomfort in their own skin compounded by the social need to fit in and not be too tall, too short, too thin, or too fat.

Why Is Body Image and Self-Esteem Important?
Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself. Having a positive one means you have a clear, true perception of your body, while a negative one gives you a distorted view.[5] Self-esteem is about how much you value yourself and how you feel others value you. It’s important because how a child feels about themselves can affect their behavior and mental health.

People with high self-esteem usually feel more in control of their lives and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Low self-esteem can lead to depression. A 2014 national student behavior survey from the Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration reported that as many as 2.8 million adolescents in the United States between the ages of 12 and 17 experienced at least one depressive episode during that year alone.[6] As depression manifests, it can negatively impact students’ social development and their success in school.[7]

Anxieties over body issues are not limited to what we see on the scale and in the mirror. In the 2015-16 Pride National Summary of Questionnaires for grade 6 – 12 student surveys, 25.9% of respondents reported being overweight. Of these, 35% reported using alcohol, 18.8% reported using marijuana, and 2.7% said they’d used meth.[8]

Girls and Boys Struggle with Body Image
Boys don’t typically talk about body image issues as much as girls might, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have them. A study of adolescent boys, published in JAMA Pediatrics, reveals that nearly 18% of boys are highly concerned about their weight and physique.[9] Boys can struggle with eating disorders, too. But parents and doctors may overlook them, even if they are watchful of such problems in girls.

Research from the American Psychological Association reports that girls become aware of the role physical appearance plays in how they’re perceived, and received, by others as early as age nine, when their self-esteem peaks before plummeting drastically.[10] The distorted reality of magazines and social media can exacerbate typical body image issues to the point of angst in your middle-schooler as eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression have become the most common mental health problems in girls.[11]

Is your tween stressed about their body image? An estimated 7 million girls and 1 million boys struggle with an eating disorder.[12]

Here are some warning signs[13]:
-Reluctant to look in the mirror
-Spending more time alone in his room
-Having disordered eating habits: refusing indulgent foods, becoming very picky, eating secretively, or bingeing
-Putting herself down in a range of ways, especially about how she looks
-Preferring to wear loose clothes, to hide either a full or a fragile figure

What Parents Can Do
-If you haven’t already had curious questions, begin talking with your children at age eight or nine about how their body will be changing.
-Always encourage your children to talk with you about the physical and emotional changes they are experiencing. Keeping the dialogue going can help your child feel more comfortable discussing questions about their changing body and feelings.
-Focus on being healthy, not weight or personal appearance. Pursuit of perfection or a perfect weight is not healthy for pubescents as the body rapidly changes and often fills out haphazardly.[14]
-Listen to their concerns and take them seriously. Disregarding feelings of being “different” or that something is wrong may cause your teen to stop sharing.
-Create lifelong healthy habits by planning nutritious meals together and talking about drinking enough water. Sharing a physical activity together like hiking, climbing, boating – or even a family walk – can set up lasting activities.
-Be a role model. We all have moments where we are frustrated with our own weight or fitness but your sons and daughters will pick up on how you talk about your body and issues with it.

Pride Surveys offers opportunities for children to share their thoughts about what may be worrying or upsetting them through our student surveys. The benefit of choosing a survey company is that we take the guesswork out of the surveying process to ask the difficult questions. Browse the different types of scalable student surveys we offer and find out why Pride Surveys is the best choice to help you survey your school. Questions? Give us a call at 800-279-6361 or fill out our quick online contact form.


[1] “All About Adolescence.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[2] “What’s Normal for Teen Development.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[3] “All About Adolescence.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[4]  “What’s Normal for Teen Development.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[5] “What is Body Image.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[6] “Major Depression Among Adolescents.” Retrieved on 6 October, 2017 at

[7] “Recognizing Signs of Depression in Students.” Retrieved on 6 October, 2017 at

[8] “Student Survey for Grades 6-12.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[9] “Prospective Associations of Concerns About Physique and the Development of Obesity, Binge Drinking, and Drug Use Among Adolescent Boys and Young Adult Men.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[10] “Developing: A Reference for Professionals.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[11] “Sexualization of Girls is Linked to Common Mental Health Problems in Girls and Women–Eating Disorders, Low Self-Esteem, and Depression; An APA Task Force Reports.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[12] “Developing Healthy Eating Habits.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[13] “What Your Tween Sees in the Mirror.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

[14] “What Your Tween Sees in the Mirror.” Retrieved 6 October, 2017 at

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)