One in five parents say their teenagers avoid certain activities because they feel self-conscious, and one in three say their child has experienced unfavourable treatment because of their appearance.
A new national poll shows that most teens and young adults are self-conscious about how they look.
According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan Health, nearly two-thirds of parents claim that their child is self-conscious about some aspect of their appearance, and one in five claim that their teen avoids situations like being in photos because they’re too self-conscious.
Children start developing opinions about their bodies and appearance at a very young age, according to Susan Woolford, M.D., M.P.H., a paediatrician at the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and co-director of the Mott Poll.
These results support previous research showing that when children are exposed to harmful messages about societal ideals, it might result in a negative self-image. If left uncontrolled, an obsession with beauty and body dissatisfaction can result in a decline in mental and emotional health as well as an increase in the risk of eating disorders, depression, and low self-esteem, according to the expert.
The findings of this nationally representative report were derived from the opinions of 1,653 parents who had at least one kid between the ages of 8 and 18. The survey was conducted in April.
Most parents said their child was insecure about their weight, skin problems like acne, or hair. Fewer parents said their child was insecure about their height or facial features. Almost one-fifth of the parents of girls said their daughters were self-conscious about the upper part of their body.
Families of teens are also more likely than parents of younger children ages 8–12 to say their child is self-conscious about how they look (73% of teen girls and 69% of teen boys, compared to 57% of younger girls and 49% of younger boys).
According to Woolford, as children become older, they become more self-aware, are more likely to compare themselves to their classmates, and may be more impacted by media representations of beauty and the ideal body type, face, and appearance.
“It’s developmentally normal for adolescents and teens to experience some insecurities, but if it’s interfering with their ability to enjoy social interactions or other activities, they may need help.”
A third or more of parents claim to have caught their kids criticising their appearance. One in five parents who report that their child is self-conscious about their appearance believe it has an adverse effect on their child’s self-esteem. Nearly one-third of parents who report that their child is self-conscious about their appearance believe it affects their child’s willingness to participate in particular activities.
Others, particularly parents of teenagers, assert that their kids’ concerns cause them to avoid being in photos, try to disguise their appearance with clothing, or restrict how much they eat.
The survey reveals that negative self-thoughts can occasionally be supported by others. One in three parents report that their child has experienced cruel treatment because of how they look, most frequently from other kids, strangers, or other family members. The most typical response from parents is to discuss the situation with their kids. Less often, they try to keep their child away from the person who said something hurtful or try to talk to the person.
In general, parents surveyed believe that face-to-face interactions have more of an impact on their child’s perception of themselves than social media. However, parents are twice as likely to claim that their child is more impacted by social media if they report that their child is self-conscious about their appearance.
Woolford suggests the following five methods for encouraging a healthy body and self-esteem in children:
Children will likely copy their parents if they are constantly criticising their appearance or body language.
“Kids are watching every time you step on that scale and sigh about needing to lose weight or point out your own perceived flaws in the mirror,” Woolford added. “Lead by example to teach them self-love and respect.”
Focus less on how you look and more on all the powerful things your body can do, like making you feel good when you go for walks, ride your bike, or swim.
Teach your child that people come in a variety of forms, sizes, and features if you hear them criticising the physique or appearance of someone, whether it’s someone they know, a TV character they see, or a complete stranger. All of them are just different, not awful.
Find children’s books that highlight body diversity and positivity for younger children and read them together.
Avoid “positive” look praise
Well-intentioned individuals, Woolford argues, are especially likely to comment on a child’s beauty.
But according to Woolford, this kind of emphasis elevates outward appearance and perpetuates ideas that people are more important when they “look good.”
This may make young people feel more self-critical and increase their concerns that the contrary may also be true.
Adults should place more emphasis on a child’s character traits rather than their appearance (body, hair, face, or clothing).
Healthy activities strengthen family bonds
According to Woolford, families should engage in enjoyable physical activity and wholesome food because they love doing so rather than because they “have to” or someone is on a diet. According to her, this encourages healthy behaviours with an emphasis on using nutrition and exercise to make your body feel good, rather than how it appears and may help prevent bad dieting later in life.
Regular family dinners also give parents a chance to bond with their children, foster frank discussion about insecurities, and provide a forum for problem-solving.
Teach them how to properly assess media
Children live in a world full of unattainable standards. Models in magazines and actors in their favourite TV shows and movies often have similar body shapes that promote thinness. Influencers, celebrities, and even their peers often use filters and editing to improve images.
Encourage your children to express criticism of the media they consume, especially on social media, and teach them how certain images are “perfected.”
Parents can help their kids become media literate and savvy by teaching them to realize that representations of the ideal body, face, and appearance in ads, the media, and even from their own friends don’t represent reality, according to Woolford.
Limit their time on these networks
“By laying a strong foundation of healthy attitudes, parents can help their children develop a positive body image through youth and adulthood,” Woolford added.
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