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In my job as a child and adolescent psychotherapist, I once worked with an adolescent boy who had a script
running through his mind that he just couldn't shake. In fact, the script ran
on repeat so often that it became part of his core belief. It went a little
something like this: "I'm fat and lazy and I will always be fat and lazy."
He accepted these negative self-descriptions and lived them
out day after day. Occasionally a friend asked him to play something active and
he found that he loved spending time with friends while biking or playing
tennis. For a while, he made time for those positive experiences. But then
something would hit the play button on his negative script, and that was the end
of outdoor activity with friends. More often than not, it was his mom. She
didn't do it on purpose. She simply hit her own negative script, and that
triggered her son to do the same.
When it comes to body image, there is a lot of talk about
teens and there is a lot of talk about girls, but rarely do we shift the focus
to boys. That's a mistake. Boys do struggle with feelings about their bodies and these concerns about body image can be
present for very young children.
A recent report by Common
Sense Media found that more than one half of girls and one third of boys as young as 6
to 8 think their ideal weight is thinner than their current size. The report
also shows that by age 7, more than one in four kids has engaged in some kind
of dieting behavior. Let that sink in for a moment.
The truth is that kids are bombarded with mixed messages
about body image on a daily basis. They hear positive messages about healthy
eating and the many benefits of exercise, but they see wafer-thin models in
magazines and ads, watch movies and TV shows that draw connections between size
and popularity or size and perfection, and they hear complaints about body image
from older siblings or older friends and even parents. It's confusing at best.
The sooner parents address body image and the more open and
honest parents are when kids question their bodies, the better self confidence
kids will display when it comes to body image.
Helping kids build their self-confidence is tricky. We have
to empower them to find their strengths without pushing them one way or
another. While we certainly don't want body image to be the thing that impacts
their self-confidence for better or for worse, we can't ignore the research.
Kids are already worrying about their bodies; it's up to us to guide them
through these difficult feelings.
1. Be a good body image
How you talk about your appearance sends a powerful message.
When you fret about your hair, your weight, how you look in your clothes and
any other aspect of your appearance, you teach your kids to evaluate themselves
with a critical eye.
It's easy to look for problems, but pinpointing the
positives shows your kids that you're happy with the skin you're in—that
you're proud of who you are. Instead of viewing your legs as large, for
example, talk about your leg muscles and what your body can do with those
Teaching kids to appreciate their bodies begins with helping
them see what it means to have a strong, healthy body that can do so many
2. Talk about images in
I hate to be the bearer of bad news here, but even the most
controlling parents out there can't stop their kids from viewing sexualized and
negative images somewhere in the media at some point. Magazines, billboards,
ads on TV, movies and even beauty products and denim options lining the shelves of your local
Target or Old Navy all convey messages that set unrealistic standards of "beauty." You
can't hide from it, but you can talk about it.
Break down the images, the song lyrics or the characters in
the latest and greatest TV shows with your kids. Ask them what they see when
they look at a pop star dresses perfectly, looking positively perfect. Share
what you see. Help your kids reframe their thinking from outside is beautiful
to inside is better.
3. Utilize some great
It would be foolish to think that these conversations are
easy or that one conversation will cure all body image issues for life. It's a
process. It takes time and an open mind blanketed in unconditional love.
The good news is that there are resources available to help
parents talk to their kids about body image. The Representation
Project has tool kits for moms, dads and other caregivers that include
talking points and strategies to help foster healthy self-esteem and body image
in all kids. They want to #BuildConfidence by empowering parents to take an
active role in modeling healthy body image.
What are you waiting for? Start talking and start building
This article is part of mom.me's collaboration with The Representation Project and their #buildconfidence campaign. Research shows that body image issues originate well before adolescence and that parents are pivotal in instilling confidence in their children. #BuildConfidence campaign celebrates and empowers parents, caregivers and mentors who model positive self-esteem and body image. Share this article and tag #buildconfidence to help us spread the word!