Proud2Bme | 4 Ways Teachers Can Help Their Students Build Self-Esteem

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4 Ways Teachers Can Help Their Students Build Self-Esteem

By Sarah Haviland--I know all too well how prevalent eating disorders can be amongst pre-teens and teenagers. I was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of twelve. I may have been too young to even drive myself around, but my mind was able to conjure the fear synonymous with anorexia with ease. I am not alone. Around 500,000 teens battle eating disorders. 

Apart from eating disorders, statistics on NEDA’s website reveal that 81% of ten-year-olds fear the thought of being heavy. 46% of those between the ages of nine and eleven engage in frequent dieting, while more than 50% of adolescent females and 33% of adolescent males engage in disordered eating conduct. 

These teens who are either afflicted with eating disorders or have eating disorder-type behaviors spend a lot of time in school. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that, from 2001-2002, students were in school for an average of 180 days per year and 6.7 hours per day

Therefore, teachers are major figures in students’ lives. Thus, teachers have to find a way to ensure that students feel good about themselves, whether it be in regard to their physical appearance or what they consume. Here are some ways that teachers can make this possible:

1. Teachers should lead by example. Weight, exercise, and food can be touchy subjects. For example, saying something like, “Wow, I really need to work out more. I’m so fat” may make students feel insecure in their own bodies. If teachers talk positively about themselves, their students will be better off because of it. In addition, teachers should be judicious in their choice of words to the students themselves. I can still recall a teacher commending me for picking an apple instead of chips a few months into my eating disorder. It made me feel a hint of satisfaction that certainly did not help rescue me from destruction.

2. Teachers should encourage school assemblies about such areas as the unrealistic depiction of people in the media. In middle and high school, everything is changing. Kids are learning about themselves, who they are, and whom they want to be. As the students start to read more magazines and become more acquainted with pop culture, they determine what they think the paradigm is. Students should learn about Photoshop and be told that models are not the norm in society. If schools engage in such efforts, maybe students will not think “I need to look like her/him.” 

3. Bullying is prevalent in schools. According to PACER, 27.8% of kids are bullied in a school setting. Work from the CDC shows that bullied students are predisposed to anxiety and depression. Around 42% of people suffered from some type of anxiety before they were diagnosed with an eating disorder, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America says. Remuda Ranch insinuates that 90% of eating disorder patients experience depression. Therefore, teachers have to ensure that students who provoke bullying are punished. Kids who are victims of bullying may start to ponder why they were bullied, which may lead them to blame themselves for it. Such thought may generate a cascade of negativity that may manifest itself as an eating disorder.

4. Teachers should tell parents about any worrisome behavior that may arise. At home, kids may try to seclude themselves from their parents. There is no guarantee that parents will be able to observe any changes in their kids. Teachers act as another set of eyes to notice abnormal phenomena. If teachers inform parents of unhealthy actions, then parents will be able to take the proper steps to regulate their child’s eating habits and get the requisite treatment. Parents may be able to prevent their child’s condition from getting worse. Such actions may allow parents to improve their child’s mental state, whether they involve trying to get rid of an eating disorder or trying to prevent toxic feelings that may cause one. 

Eating disorders are malicious diseases, but swift action and preventive measures may help keep them from becoming even more ubiquitous in the adolescent world. 

The NEDA Educator Toolkit is a resource for educators and staff who work in a school setting or those who work with youth outside of school. If you want to understand more about eating disorders, if you’d like to know how to support students and young people who may be affected, this information will help you.

Image via iStock 

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Proud2Bme is an online community created by and for teens. We cover everything from fashion and beauty to news, culture, and entertainment—all with the goal of promoting positive body image and encouraging healthy attitudes about food and weight.

This site was developed in partnership with Riverduinen and made possible by generous contributions from JPMorgan Chase, Globant, the University of Delaware, and The Hilda & Preston Davis Foundation.

Proud2Bme was first launched in the Netherlands by Riverduinen, a mental health organization that has licensed the concept to the National Eating Disorders Association. Unless otherwise noted, all original content on this site is copyright The National Eating Disorders Association. The Proud2Bme brand, logos, and trademarks are property of Rivierduinen.