New Year’s & Body Image: 5 Tips for Teaching Kids
By Jenny Johnson and Melody Bergman
It’s January. And just like every year, the media has made the switch from silver bells and red bows to exercise plans and miracle diets. Everywhere we turn–whether it’s on the radio, TV, or internet–someone is hinting that we should lose weight fast.
But do we think about how these messages are affecting our children?
Fat. Skinny. Tall. Short. Ugly. Beautiful. How do our children see themselves when they look in the mirror?
“Body image” is the term we use to describe our perceptions about the physical aspects of our bodies. As we all know, these feelings can be both positive and negative. And they are heavily influenced by our daily diet of media–like the New Year’s ads that bombard us this time of year.
Children and teens already struggle with comparisons to their peers, whose bodies may change later, earlier, or at the same time as their own. In today’s world, kids are finding it even more difficult to maintain a positive body image. With airbrushed photos and photoshopped body parts, media has learned to create a “perfect” image. In turn it has created unrealistic expectations and unhealthy goals for children.
However, this is not just a problem in mainstream media, it’s a huge problem on social media too. In past generations, peer pressure was limited to looking cool in the hallway or out on the town. Now kids feel a constant pull to capture “perfect” moments, post them on social media, and rack up the “likes.” That’s the new peer pressure–which in large part involves finding the perfect angle in selfies, complimentary poses, and flattering filters.
While historically body image has been classified as a female problem, boys are now struggling too. Guys are often faced with male images in the media that are “tough” or “cool,” and they don’t feel like they measure up. For instance, they judge their own muscles and strength against athletes and even video game characters, which creates feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.
So what can parents do to combat these negative perceptions?
Here are 5 tips for teaching kids about healthy body image:
1) Be an example. Your kids hear you. If you are critical about your own body, they will notice. Be kind to yourself. Compliment yourself. Talk about your strengths and be positive about your imperfections.
2) Limit exposure. Children spend on average 7.5 hours a day on a screen. The majority of this time is spent on television, video games, and social media (Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders, n.d.). Kids are being influenced by social media, TV characters, advertisements, celebrities, and friends. Monitor their media usage and make sure an excessive amount of time is not being spent objectifying themselves or their peers.
3) Compliment your kids often. Promote their self worth by encouraging the great things they do as opposed to how they look. Thank them for their helpful, meaningful behaviors (doing dishes, giving hugs, sharing a talent). Help them understand that body types can vary between individuals and that they are beautiful the way they are.
4) Help them love the body they have. Remind your kids of all the amazing things their bodies can do: run, swim, sleep, see, hear, speak, sing, dream, hold hands, skip, laugh, etc. Help your child understand that the human body is a miracle and that it has value and beauty that transcends society’s cheap standards.
5) Teach media literacy. When you see a photoshopped image, you may realize that it’s not real. But does your child know the difference? Teach your kids about how the media creates illusions to manipulate them. Give them the “Power to See.” Watch for our children’s book, Petra’s Power to See: A Media Literacy Adventure, coming soon! Also, check out our Kids Activity Page for some hands-on practice deconstructing real ads!
There are so many images and voices surrounding our children. As parents, we can be a positive influence and strive to make our voices rise above the media storm.We can make a difference. We can help our kids understand who they are and teach them to feel confident about themselves.
Want an easy, fun way to talk to kids about body image? Check our new children’s books: Messages About Me: Sydney’s Story (for girls) and Messages About Me: Wade’s Story (for boys), both available on Amazon.
For more information and great discussions about positive body image, check out our book, 30 Days to a Stronger Child or our lesson on Body Image. Or visit Proud2BMe.org, a community created for teens to promote confidence and positive body image.
Jennifer Johnson is an intern for Educate and Empower Kids and is working towards a degree in Marriage and Family Studies from Brigham Young University – Idaho. She is active in her community and has volunteered in her local school district as a noon duty aide, school site safety council representative, and PTO President. Jennifer was born and raised in Southern California where she currently lives with her husband and three sons.
Melody Harrison Bergman is a mother and step-mom of three awesome boys, founder of Mama Crossroads, and a member of the Prevention Task Force for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. She has a bachelor’s degree in communications and has been writing and editing since 2002. Her mission is to motivate leaders and community members to educate and protect children and families. Her experiences as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and former spouse of a sex addict bring unique perspective to the fight against pornography and sexual exploitation.
Media, Body Image, and Eating Disorders. (n.d.) Retrieved November 14, 2017, from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/media-body-image-and-eating-disorders