- In a survey, two-thirds of parents said their children felt self-conscious about their appearance.
- They reported that their children’s self-esteem was affected by these feelings.
- In addition, many children have been abused because of their appearance.
- Experts say it’s a common feeling during childhood and adolescence.
- However, parents can do a lot to support and educate their children.
According to a new survey conducted by CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI, 64% of parents said their children were bothered by some aspect of their appearance, such as their weight, skin tone or breast size.
The nationally representative survey included 1,653 parents with at least one child between the ages of eight and 18.
Parents who participated in the survey said they observed these feelings more often in teenagers than in young children. Seventy-three percent of teenage girls and 69% of teenage boys felt this, compared to 57% of teenage girls and 49% of teenage boys.
In 27% of cases, they said their child’s self-awareness had negatively affected their self-esteem, while 20% said their child did not want to participate in activities because of their feelings.
Almost as many (18%) had refused to be in photos and 17% had tried to hide their appearance with clothing. In addition, 8% had adopted a restrictive diet.
Many respondents said their children were often abused because of their appearance by other children (28%), strangers (12%), family members (12%), teachers (5%) and healthcare providers (5%). .
Two-thirds of these parents felt that their child was aware of how he had been treated.
Mott Poll co-director Dr. Susan Woolford, MPH, a childhood obesity expert and pediatrician at the University of Michigan’s CS Mott Children’s Hospital, said these findings are important.
“A negative body image can contribute to poor self-esteem and ultimately impact emotional well-being,” she noted. “Thus, it is important to help children and adolescents to have a positive perception of their bodies.”
According to Eileen Anderson-Fye, EdD, director of education, bioethics and medical humanities and associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, these feelings are common among children. “Most teens feel uncomfortable or self-conscious in at least some context of their lives,” she noted.
Anderson-Fye explained, “From a developmental perspective, adolescents bring parts of their brains online that allow for increased comparison of their place relative to others in their social world.”
She added that they are better able to deal with abstraction at this stage of their development, which allows them to imagine themselves in various scenarios and make comparisons between their developing bodies and those of others.
“Body image issues have long caused conscious discomfort among adolescents in many societies, cultures and subcultures,” Anderson-Fye said.
She further noted how the pervasiveness of social media complicates this issue.
“Not only do they compare themselves to – and are compared to – others in their immediate world, but they also have instant, constant and filtered national and global media images to grapple with.”
“They often look at idealized, edited footage of someone’s best moment and compare their worst,” she added.
She also pointed out that ideals of attractiveness constantly change, so children can never achieve those ideals.
Plus, she explained, they have to worry that someone might capture them in an offbeat moment and post it on social media, where the photo could live forever.
Woolford and Anderson-Fye say parents can do a lot to help their children through this difficult stage in their lives.
Model what you preach
Anderson-Fye explained that it is first and foremost very important that parents “model what they preach.”
“The mum who denigrates herself in front of the mirror and then expects her daughter to feel good about herself, or the dad who talks about his physical flaws but expects his son to feel confident, [those parents] pattern of behavior that children tend to absorb over time,” she said.
She suggests that parents praise children’s character qualities rather than their appearance. « isous
Talk to them about their feelings
Woolford further suggests that parents open a dialogue with their children about what is happening to their bodies, explaining that the things they are uncomfortable with can change over time. She adds that parents can let them know that most people feel embarrassed at some point, which will put the pressure they feel into context.
“It’s also important to talk with children about the unrealistic images they see in the media and to discuss the importance of diversity,” Woolford said. “It will help children understand that we are all unique and that those differences should be celebrated and accepted.”
Anderson-Fye added that parents should listen carefully to what their teens are saying, without being dismissive or making assumptions, and ask follow-up questions. She advises to proceed “in the spirit of Ted Lasso: Be curious, don’t be judgmental.”
Master social networks
When it comes to social media, parents can do a lot to educate their kids about the realities of filters, “photoshopping” and image angles, too, Anderson-Fye said. Also, it can help direct them to body-positive social media feeds and influencers.
She further advises parents not to post pictures of their children on social media unless their children have approved of them.
“There are so many uncontrollable things in teens’ lives, and especially on social media, to give them control and respect for what their own family messages are important,” she said. “As a mother of three teenage girls, I feel the pain of this one myself, but in the long run it pays off in your relationship and in the kids feeling respected and in control.”
Put them in supportive environments
Finally, Anderson-Fye said, “If parents are concerned about their teen, they can offer resources such as counseling or opportunities to reunite with a trusted friend or family member.”
She also suggests finding out where children feel most “themselves” and trying to foster those environments to build children’s confidence.