I met with a lovely parent today whose worry about her son stems from things that he has no control over and neither does she. Its all about the genes. In her son's case at 17 he has early male patterned baldness. His hairline is receding, he is beginning to get a bald spot on the back of his head, and time is not on his side. His grandfather was completely bald at 25. In addition he has an auditory processing problem (those genes again) that makes concentrating difficult. He is painfully self-conscious about both these issues. So much so that there are days, he just doesn't want to go to school. I have met with parents where acne was the culprit, or height, or big breasts or no breasts, or body shape, anything that makes their teen feel different and vulnerable.
Your heart bleeds for your teen because you absolutely feel their pain, and want more than anything to just make it go away. So you may go into denial mode, and say to your teen at one of those times when they just wish they could close the blinds and get back into bed: "What are you talking about, nobody notices, it's just you!" And they look at you, not with love and thankfulness, but with anger and defiance because of course they know that you are lying. They live in our heads after all, and pretty much know exactly what we're thinking as we are thinking it. Your kids have amazing bullshit detectors. And what they imagine you are thinking is probably way worse than what you are actually thinking, so it's best to just be honest. " Oh honey, I get that you hate your (fill in the blank). It totally sucks, I know. What can I do to help?" You don't need to be brutally honest by saying, "you're right you have a pizza face, but you can acknowledge that for them it is a problem. Maybe you spring for something that might dull the pain, fabulous sneakers, or a cool hair color, or an outfit that other kids would kill for. Find something that might build their confidence in another way, and distract them, just for a minute from the pain of self-consciousness. Yes it may seem superficial, buying their confidence, but when you have a teen who is losing the battle with their genes, and patching them just won't work anymore, its time to buy some new ones! As always, this too shall pass. The trick here is not letting these time-limited feelings of self-consciousness turn into a lifetime of self-loathing.