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How has teen body image been impacted by the pandemic?

The pandemic has turned life as we know it on its head and has undoubtedly had a profound impact on the emotional wellbeing of the entire nation.

Research carried out by mental health charity Mind has found that more than half (60%) of adults and two thirds (68%) of young people feel their mental health has gotten worse as a result of lockdown.

With life seemingly on pause, it is unsurprising that people across the UK are experiencing heightened levels of anxiety and depression.

When it comes to young people, being a teenager is challenging enough, without having to navigate a global pandemic.

While the extent to which the pandemic has impacted teenagers is yet to be fully understood, children's charity, Barnardos reports that it has seen a worrying increase in anxiety, sleep dysfunction, stress, depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts as well as a reduction in self-esteem.

With every aspect of teenagers lives - from school to socialising with friends and keeping in touch with extended family - now all taking place online, it is unsurprising that lockdown and the increased use of video software has impacted their self-esteem and body image.

From our own research, we know that the increased use of video conferencing, both for work and keeping in touch with friends and family, has led to 69% of respondents saying they have generally felt either ‘quite aware’ or ‘extremely aware’ of their own appearance as a result.

While this has led to fears for a surge in cosmetic procedures following the pandemic, we are already seeing the impact the pandemic is having on issues surrounding body image and self-esteem manifest in other ways.

Earlier in the month, leading eating disorder charity Beat reported that demand for its services has increased by 173% since February 2020. This includes calls, online chat functions and direct messages on social media, dealt with by the charity

Speaking exclusively to the Independent, Jess Griffiths, the charity’s clinical lead, said: “A lot of families are contacting us saying my child has deteriorated in six weeks. It is really terrifying for them.”

There is no single reason for this, but throughout the pandemic the sustained discussion surrounding weight gain and the range of fitness challenges that have been promoted creates additional pressure. For young people who are having to navigate this period of uncertainty without their usual support network, it can be easy to fall victim to negative thoughts.

With schools closed, team sports cancelled and opportunities to socialise with friends limited, teenagers are finding themselves increasingly isolated and are relying on digital platforms and social media to stay connected, which can have its own pitfalls.

A lot has been written about the impact of social media on young people's body image, with TikTok being the latest platform to come under fire.

Recently, Insider reported that plastic surgery was aggressively being promoted to children as young as 14 - despite the site claiming to have banned cosmetic surgery ads. This has led medical experts to fearing what the long term damage could be for the platform's young and impressionable audience.

Fundamentally, the Covid-19 crisis has placed increased pressure on young people - both in terms of the emotional wellbeing and self-esteem. With both so closely linked to body image, it is unsurprising that we are starting to see evidence that suggests the pandemic might be negatively impacting teens to a greater extent than other age groups.

Now more than ever, it is really hard to be a teenager. Parents play an important role in supporting young people with the challenges of growing up. It really isn't easy but we’ve pulled together some tips to help improve your teenage child’s confidence and self-esteem:

If you're concerned about the impact of the pandemic on your child’s body image and need advice, speak to a professional.

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