These are awkward years as not all these changes are happening uniformly within a person – and for some, may have started earlier, while for others, onset may be delayed – which can be difficult with the increased focus on appearances, abilities and peer groups in the school setting.
Additionally, a child's sexuality can become more overt during these years, which may lead to him or her becoming the victim of bullying or lead to lost friendships.
The focus on comparing and contrasting one's self with friends and others around them can lead to distortions in an adolescent's self image with severe consequences.
It is important for pre-teens and teens to feel they belong, but when the basis for this is solely on appearance – something that a person has limited control over – there is a danger in the health and development of the adolescent. The messages in the media and by society can drive the focus to appearance and amplify an adolescent's negative view of self. Historically these media messages have focused on female beauty and idealism, but male beauty and idealism are gaining some spotlight and may have similar negative results.
• Focus on being healthy – whether this means eating the right foods – rather than dieting – remaining active and proper hygiene. Parents can lead the way by demonstrating this in their own lives.
• Take note of your positive physical traits – remember, puberty is a process that goes on for years and something you don't like about your appearance now is very likely to change – as well as your non-physical traits, such as academics, sportsmanship and other talents.
• Be critical of the messages you get from the media.
• Surround yourself with friends who are supportive and make you feel cared about and important for who you are, not what you look like.
• Develop your interests, whether it is music, sports or academic.
• Be empathetic to your adolescent. There is plenty of information about the process and changes of puberty – more of that is not what he or she is seeking. If necessary, a doctor's visit may be more beneficial in helping your child understand the changes and what is considered "normal."
• Curb criticism and take note of successes and attempts to build self esteem. Children with a higher self esteem are not immune to depression, anxiety and peer pressure, but they are less at risk.
• Compliment your child for what they have inside and help them to develop his or her interests.