By Lana Luise Thomas, Creative Director for Children’s Health Center, P.A.
It is no secret that growing up in today’s social society is difficult on young boys and girls. We provide them with the responsibility of IPhones and Blackberries before we allow them to drive, and then we question how they are growing up so quickly. Five years ago,it was Facebook trending among the teens. Today it is Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram with selfie photos more popular than ever.
At the age of 23, my use of Instagram includes posting about the places I have visited, as well as seeing all of the fun adventures my friends are experiencing. If I actually comment on a photo, it is typically to tell a pal how beautiful they are or how jealous I am of the yummy food they posted a picture of.
I was recently looking through an eleven year old girl’s Instagram pictures and noticed the comments posted below the photos were not as sweet and pleasant as those from most of my friends. Words such as “gay”, “idiot,” and “weird” popped up all over the place. In these children’s post, kids also asked questions similar to, “Who do you think is prettiest girl in school?”
I know at eleven I was into gossiping and sending notes to boys asking the same questions, but it always stayed between myself, the boy, and my three best friends. Today, the kids post these comments and questions where everyone in the school can see and read it.
Being a teenager has never been easy, but if I had to relive my teen years in the social media era, I would be terrified. With easy access to Internet search engines, Facebook, magazines, and Instagram, fashion and body-image is becoming a concern of children at a very young age. So it doesn’t necessarily surprise me when mothers come to me seeking ideas on how to help their children feel comfortable in their own skin when society seems to be yelling at them to change. I’ve seen children who are clearly small but are under the illusion that they are fat, and I have also heard mothers worry because their child is in tears over the fact that he or she isn’t the smallest in their school class. Either way, these are both situations no one wants their child to be in, nor are they situations anyone ever wants to be in.
I’ve done a bit of research to see what experts recommend, and based on that and my own experience, I am writing what I believe could be helpful for parents to guide their children through this confusing time. You can also find the links I found most helpful at the bottom of this page.
The Goal: Help your children learn to love their body and recognize that it is their own, no matter what shape or size.
Why is this Important? Having a positive body image is extremely important for a child’s physical and mental health.
Planned Parenthood Health Info & Services online states: “Having a long-lasting negative body image can affect both your mental and physical health. People who have a long-lasting negative body image are more likely than people with a positive body image to:
- have anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, shame, and trouble concentrating
- take risks with their sexual health
- cut themselves off from being with other people socially
- stop doing healthy activities that require them to show their bodies, such as exercising, having sex, going to the doctor, or swimming
- suffer from serious mental health problems, such as anorexia, bulimia, over-exercising, or overeating. These disorders can be very serious.”
Based on personal experience, I recommend the first step you make is to step back and look at how you and other adults in the child’s life talk and treat their own body. If you are frequently pointing out your own body image issues, your child may be picking up on them and applying your concerns to their own body.
Another thing to examine is your own diet. If you are frequently dieting and talking about weight loss, try not to discuss it in front of your child or teen. I suffered an eating disorder that began when my mother and father began the South Beach Diet, and I decided to do it with them (without their knowledge). The problem was my diet was based on what they discussed around me. I never read the book or took the time to understand how diets work. All I cared about was losing those five pounds, and the diet sounded like the perfect way.
The next thing to do is talk to your child about their concerns or struggles. Don’t be surprised if they hide the truth and tell you they are happy with their body when you confront them. If you know it is a concern of theirs, continue to make the following ideas a daily discussion.
- Remind your child of all the spectacular things their body is capable of everyday. I think we are all guilty of forgetting that our body is the reason we are here. Instead of always putting our body down, we should be thankful of all it provides for us and allows us to do day after day.
- Everyday ask your son or daughter three good things their body did today. Sometimes something as simple as “it helped me crawl out of bed” will be one of the three, but that alone reminds them to be grateful for the body they have rather than be hateful towards it.
- When you discuss “fat,” how do you use it? Body Positive points out that in our society today, fat is often seen as something you are, rather than something you have. We tend to say, “you are fat,” rather than “you have fat.” Fat is not something you are; it is something you have. A healthy girl, boy, woman, or man has fat.
If your child is looking to change the way they look, be sure to have realistic expectations, and that it is done in a healthy manner. Visit your child’s pediatrician to discuss a healthy way to help your child make the changes. Depending on their age, a diet may or may not be a healthy option. It is important to discuss how weight gain or weight loss works with your child. Help them understand the important balance of food and exercise. Most importantly, continue to discuss their progress. When they have reached their goal, help them return to a normal routine.
“People with high self-esteem tend to feel more in control of their lives and know their own strengths and weaknesses” (Weight Loss Advisor). Every child deserves to be happy from the inside out.
They are one of a kind! Don’t let them want anything different!
If you try these various options to help your child and feel they are still unhappy with their body to an unhealthy extent, they may suffer from a long-term negative body image: the inability to accurately perceive reality or truth about their body. Visit their pediatrician to discuss clinics in your area that may be able to offer further help. There is help out there; your child can be happy again.