Nowadays, social media has placed teenagers even more in the spotlight than ever before. With access to gadgets, the Web, and apps galore, young children and teens are more vulnerable to outside influences (and opinions) and, without a strong and confident self-image to begin with, children can very quickly develop a slew of very serious self-image problems.
The fact is, today’s youth tends to focus a lot more on the image they present to the world; how they appear to others matters to them more than anything else that may be of larger importance. The youth of today tends to be so engrossed with posting updates online and bragging about buying new clothes or getting the latest novelties – and waiting for the ‘likes’ to come. Some young girls idolise models and film idols, trying hard to emulate them in every possible way, even to the extent of believing that having big breasts or having a breast enlargement procedure is the ‘in thing’, and therefore, they should get their breasts done too.
With a lot of these factors affecting our children’s self- image, parents are having a harder time raising their children to develop a healthy self-image. And, more often than we’d like to admit, children are being plagued by depression. It may not show in the early years, but as they grow older, their emotional development is placed at risk as a result of their difficulty coping.
Instilling confidence and a positive image in our children from an early age has a bearing on how they deal with life’s challenges in later years, which is why building a positive body image early is crucial to the development of children. Here are some ways we can help our precious ones develop a healthy body image.
1. Maintain a positive body image – One of the most important things that parents should teach their children is to love themselves and to be comfortable in their own body. Each person is unique and the body is beautiful no matter what others may say or think. Since body image can be linked to a person’s self-esteem, teaching children to love their body is crucial to promoting a happy and positive attitude towards life.
If a child is positive about his image, he will then seek and build relationships that are filled with love and respect. Otherwise, he will likely stay in short-term relationships and will perpetually seek acceptance. A negative body image can plague a child from as early as preschool, so parents and teachers play a crucial role in helping a child gain the confidence he needs.
2. Self-acceptance – Every person is unique; comparing oneself to others is normal, but acceptance must be taught and shaming, vetoed. Take for example, a child who has suffered severe burns to the face. Young children and teens typically tease and play practical jokes or do unspeakably cruel things to people who look or act differently. Someone who may deviate from the norm will subsequently be treated ‘differently’, and some will even purposely go out of their way to make him feel like an outcast.
A typical reaction would be for the child to feel sad, and possibly resentful of others. The child could very well grow up bitter and evasive. But if the child is surrounded by supportive friends and family, he will feel much better, and this should lessen (if not totally eradicate) any feelings of inferiority.
Accepting one’s flaws is very important at an early stage in life. Turning these flaws into positives will make a child strong enough to face adversities. Confidence is difficult to come by, which is why parental encouragement and acceptance from others within the child’s environment are important.
3. Change of perspective – What a person chooses to believe has a great impact on the way he interacts with other people. If a person changes how he sees himself, this can positively affect the way other people around will behave.
Being open and self-affirming is one way of developing a positive body image. Parents should observe and teach their children how to change their perspective of things when the situation calls for it.
4. Health over looks – Body image among the youth often focuses on the external aspect, specifically the looks. For the child’s sake, parents must focus on maintaining good health rather than pushing their slightly rotund child to hit near-impossible weight goals. Since children are still growing and developing, it makes little sense to be obsessively concerned with weight. Instead, parents must shift their emphasis on the quality of health of their children.
Parents should also help their children understand the difference between junk and tasty, healthy snacks. Children generally should not be made to count calories: each body is unique and making sure that each child receives optimum vitamins and minerals matters most. Even adults feel better if they take good care of their health.
5. Personal qualities over physical image – Instead of emphasising how a child looks, parents must help their child understand that inner qualities are more important. Beauty is only skin deep whereas having a positive and happy persona allows a child to value himself a lot more than just being pretty on the outside.
Another thing to teach children is that each person has a gift or passion for something. Letting a child enhance that passion or talent by engaging in different activities aside from school is important. Focusing and nurturing a sense of self only proves that positive values are more substantial than one’s outward appearance.
6. Teach children to be alert for bullies – Children are bound to encounter bullies in school or in various social settings, and being over- or underweight is one of the main triggers of bullying. A child can quickly develop a sense of inferiority as a result of bullying. Parents must be alert to signs such as the child being unusually withdrawn or quiet, or seemingly sad; never ignore unusual behaviour as being there for the child and providing guidance does wonders in helping build his character. Any parent who has concerns must proactively seek help from school authorities, such as the child’s teacher or the school principal.
Parents are not around during school hours, which means they’re away from their children for most of the day. Thus, teaching your children how to handle themselves and to stay strong and firm against bullies is crucial. Knowing your child’s friends and encouraging a support system also helps.
Establishing a positive body image in our children will help them be happy with what and who they are. Depression is one common disorder that is becoming ever more prevalent, even among teenagers. Aside from their parents, it’s best that children be given the opportunity to speak with therapists and guidance counsellors to seek advice, support, and positive feedback if they’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with the physical and social changes going on within and around them.
Melissa Lobo is a young and energetic writer, a mother to a sweet little boy, and a fur-mum to two perfect pooches. Before becoming the Associate Content Director for Project Female, she was a journalist specialising in topics related to women in politics and policy affecting women.