My 14-year-old daughter seems to be obsessed about her appearance all of a sudden. She spends hours in the bathroom and on her makeup and hair, and can't pass a mirror without looking at it. Is this normal?
It's normal for teens to spend lots of time on grooming and appearance. To many parents, it can seem like an abrupt change — especially if getting the same child to brush her hair or shower was a challenge when she was younger. Though teen boys tend to be less vocal about it than girls, they may be just as concerned about their looks.
While you might feel frustrated that your teen is so concerned with something that seems superficial, remember that underneath all that lip gloss, a deeper maturation process is occurring. Young teens are developing more self-awareness and individuality, dealing with changes in their bodies and appearance, and trying to find their place among their peers. They may want to dress and style themselves to feel accepted or to reflect their evolving sense of self. As they identify their inner qualities, interests, and strengths, they may experiment with different looks to match.
Be understanding, positive, and patient, but if necessary, set boundaries on how much time your daughter can spend on primping. After all, she still has to get to school on time, share the bathroom, do homework, and help around the house. Setting limits can help teens learn to manage time, be considerate of others' needs, share resources, and exercise a little self-discipline.
Teens whose appearance concerns or insecurities consume a lot of energy, cause them significant distress, or make them reluctant to be seen by others might have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). BDD is an uncommon condition in which a person will exhibit obsessions and compulsions about appearance that can disrupt everyday functioning.
Unfortunately, it's common for teens to develop a negative body image or dissatisfaction with some aspect of their appearance. It doesn't help that the media and peer pressure can send powerful messages about the importance of looks and what's acceptable or ideal.
Parents play an important role in helping their teens develop a healthy body image. Besides complimenting appearances, praise the inner qualities that make your son or daughter a beautiful person. And teen girls are starting to care about how they appear to boys, so when a dad gives positive feedback to his daughter, that reassurance means a lot.
And remember to be a good role model. If you criticize your own looks, your teen is likely to see a harsh critic in the mirror too. Set a good example by talking positively, appreciating your body for what it can do, and accepting its imperfections. Teach your teen to take good care of her body by modeling your own healthy habits for eating, physical activity, grooming, and sleep.
Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: July 2013