Let’s address here was the importance of raising our next generation without the body image issues that we are currently cultivating in today’s mindset. What I’m not going to get into here is a lengthy explanation of what’s wrong in today’s society as that has been done and is well worth a read through the Beauty Redefined Facebook page and website. What we want to address here is the conversation we need to have with our children around body image and how they can interpret the messages they see in the world.
The very first thing we need to do is have a hard look at ourselves. What we model to our children is so much more powerful than any words we give them. So if we are not comfortable with our own body image, then our children will unconsciously pick up on that and out of loyalty to you, will have the same issues growing up into adulthood. So it’s important that you address your own issues around body image and then you can explain to your children your thoughts. Now keep in mind, this does not mean going on a diet! I’ve actually just written this article for adults on my other website – here’s a link to that.
Around the tween years children start to be very conscious about fitting in with their peers and feeling accepted and often that comes with comparing themselves with others in what they do, how they look and what they wear. These are the critical years of influence we have as parents. It’s at these times we need to gently challenge thinking and the desire to fit in by being like everyone else. Here are some ways to encourage a healthier way of looking at themselves:
- Encourage children to self assess and self praise – We want them to acknowledge their own strengths and not rely on you or anyone else for their sense of worth
- Talk to them about the dangers of comparing ourselves to others and that we don’t do this for many other things in nature… for example we don’t say one tree is better than the other just because it has a different shape.
- Talk about how marketing and the media works – explain that the aim is to get you to feel less good about yourself if you don’t have the look, the product, the brand that they are trying to sell you. Marketing works on manipulating your insecurities to buy more.
- Encourage them to measure their goals against themselves and not others – when they set a goal, work towards it and focus on what they can do and not what they can’t do
- Talk about normalised pornography – yes the sexy underwear adds, the music videos, the TV shows, magazines and even selfies which skew our perceptions of what is normal, what is sexy and what sex is about. The idea is not to scare them but to inform them.
- Talk to your children about Pornography – the scary stats are that children as young as 9 are being exposed to pornography and it’s setting up unhealthy expectations of what our bodies should look like and what sex is. We need to have healthy discussions around sex which is based on positive experiences and healthy boundaries and empowering children to have healthy experiences and thoughts about their body parts and what is normal during sex.
- Watch for negative self talk or judgements of others – Too many of us are use to judging ourselves and others negatively and this needs to stop. When you judge others you judge yourself. The research behind thinking nice thoughts of others are more likely to think nice of themselves and be more motivated to looking after their health.
- Assess what activities they are doing that may impact their sense of self – address these issues before they even show up by talking about them and brainstorming ideas with your child to combat any threats to their self esteem. Sport is suppose to be a positive experience, so choose your coach wisely.
- Challenge your children to re-define beauty as they move through stages (tween, teen, young adult etc) – so this dialogue is an ongoing discussion in which they can air their concerns and you can empathise and then challenge their thoughts based on what’s right for them. When you empathise and then gently challenge thoughts you help them move from their emotional brain into their logic brain and allow them to find the solutions that work for them.
The gift of giving your child a healthy body image is not a once off presentation but rather and ongoing discussion to help them make sense of the world and what messages they are receiving. While we do this, we are also helping ourselves with these very issues.