The teenage years are hard on kids’ sense of identity and self-esteem, especially as their bodies and minds are changing and growing at a rapid rate. As a parent, it may feel like you are jumping through mental and emotional hoops, doing your best to build up your child while still maintaining discipline. However, adolescents who struggle with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) may need more help than most parents may realize.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Strikes at a Vulnerable Age
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental disorder that leads individuals to constantly think about their perceived appearance flaws. These flaws may be small and therefore unobservable by others, but for someone with BDD, those perceived defects in their appearance can be all-consuming.
According to research, this disorder often strikes sometime during either childhood or the later adolescent years, with 16 being the average age of those diagnosed. Since teens are often going through many difficult changes during this time period, their BDD may go unnoticed by parents or simply seen as an extension of teenage angst. However, a child’s body dysmorphia and overall obsessive unhappiness with their appearance may not be their only mental health issue.
Comorbid Disorders Often Impact Teens with BDD
The same research that pointed out that adolescence is usually when body dysmorphic disorder begins also stressed that children struggling with this issue often had other comorbid mental health problems. As BDD is considered part of the obsessive-compulsive family of disorders, it is not surprising that anxiety is one of the common mental health issues present with BDD.
Depression is another major factor in those struggling with BDD, along with suicidal thoughts and attempts. Eating disorders were also found to be comorbid conditions in adolescents with body dysmorphic disorder.
In fact, a case report concerning a teen with severe body dysmorphic disorder also had several severe comorbid mental health disorders, regularly suffering from depression, delusions, and suicidal ideation. The professionals who wrote up her case suggested that BDD is underdiagnosed by professionals who focus on treating the co-morbid issues without directly addressing the body dysmorphia.
Signs Your Child May Have Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Now that you understand the impact body dysmorphic disorder can have on your kids, it is also important that you are able to recognize the signs of BDD. Commonly, those with BDD have an unhappy obsession with one or more of their body parts, such as:
- Facial feature, i.e., acne, nose size, complexion, etc.
- Skin and veins
- Hair appearance
- Overall musculature
These signs can manifest in a number of symptoms. Some of the symptoms of BDD you may see in your son or daughter are:
- Constantly preoccupied with a flaw in their features, which you may or may not see. Even if you do see a minor flaw, your teen perceives it as far worse.
- Believe that their perceived flaw makes them hideous or visibly deformed.
- Withdrawal from social situations and functions to keep people from seeing the flaws.
- Spending an inordinate amount of time styling hair, makeup, or clothes to help disguise perceived flaws.
- Believing that people are constantly noticing their flaws and are making fun of them.
- Perpetually seeks yours and others reassurance about their appearance.
Ways Parents Can Help Kids Struggling with Body Dysmorphic Disorder
While body dysmorphic disorder can have a serious impact on your teen, you have the ability to help them overcome their disordered thinking. Some of the best things you can do are:
Be available to talk
Your support and insight can make a world of difference to your child. Even though teens may sometimes act like they never want to talk to you, knowing that you are there and willing to listen when your child needs it can help them feel heard and less isolated with their obsessions and anxiety.
Access professional help
In many cases of BDD, children need the help of professionals to assist in overcoming their obsessive thoughts. Should your child have depression or other comorbid conditions with their disordered thinking, a residential treatment center could be a nurturing environment staffed with the professionals your child needs.
Provide accurate health information
Weight and body composition unhappiness is a significant feature for those who struggle with BDD. This unhappiness may lead them to make poor health choices such as severely restricting their food intake.
Instead of allowing this behavior, you can provide them with accurate health information, whether it is the nutritional value of food or the best workouts to help them become more fit. The natural reward hormones released by exercise can also be beneficial in altering your child’s mindset.
Model healthy behaviors
Parental behaviors can play a profound part in a child’s self-perceptions, so it is essential that parents model healthy behaviors.
It can be tempting to make off-hand, critical remarks about your body, but while you may not mean them to a severe extent, it is easy for a young child or teen hear you and follow your example to a more extreme conclusion.
When it comes to body dysmorphic disorder, the sooner your son or daughter receives treatment, the higher the probability that BDD will have a less severe impact on them. So, if your teen has been complaining about their appearance, be sure to listen to see if there is an obviously obsessive and false component to what they are saying and be ready to get them the help they need.
Jacobson, Tyler. (2019). 6 Mental & Emotional Flaming Hoops You Jump Through for Your Kids. Retrieved https://psychcentral.com/blog/6-mental-emotional-flaming-hoops-you-jump-through-for-your-kids/
Bjornsson, A. S., Didie, E. R., Grant, J. E., Menard, W., Stalker, E., & Phillips, K. A. (2013). Age at onset and clinical correlates in body dysmorphic disorder. Comprehensive psychiatry, 54(7), 893–903. doi:10.1016/j.comppsych.2013.03.019
Thungana, Y., Moxley, K., & Lachman, A. (2018). Body dysmorphic disorder: A diagnostic challenge in adolescence. South African Journal of Psychiatry, 24, 4 pages. doi: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v24i0.1114
Jacobson, Tyler. (2019). How Parents Can Model Healthy Behavior for Their Kids & Teens. Retrieved https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-parents-can-model-healthy-behavior-for-their-kids-teens/