In the age of social media, how can I help my child maintain a positive body image?

A study of over 5,000 girls aged between 10 to 17 in 14 countries found that more than half of girls had low body esteem. In the age of the ‘Gram’ and ‘SnapChat’, our experts give advice on how we can help children maintain a positive body image.

Dr. Linda Papadopoulos

Psychologist, Author, Broadcaster and Internet Matters Ambassador
Expert Website

One of the most important things is getting them to think critically about the images they see. There is a very famous study where girls and boys were asked to rate how they felt about themselves. Then they were asked to look at glossy magazines and rate how they feel and they all felt worse.

When we look at idealised images – it’s natural to compare ourselves.  The way to deal with these images is to recognise that they are more like press releases, they showcase the best possible version of a face or body.  So, comparing yourself to Instagram images is the same as comparing yourselves to magazines, they are comparing themselves to someone’s best possible version.

Parents need to teach their kids to be more selective about what comes into their consciousness – if they feel really bad about not having abs and every picture they’re following is people with abs then their child is suddenly going to think everybody has an eight-pack. It’s not the case. They need a more balanced view of what is out there.

Thirdly, it’s a lot about the visual; if you’re valuing yourself based on how you look, it means you’re missing out on the important stuff. If you take Love Island for example, yes they are beautiful, but would you really want to spend time with someone you don’t have fun with or don’t have interesting conversations with, probably not?

Martha Evans

Director, Anti-Bullying Alliance
Expert Website

In the selfie generation, how can parents help children deal with the pitfalls of teenage life such as appearance-related bullying or getting hang-ups about food and body shape?

The most important thing is for parents to have the confidence to talk to their children about online relationships and make sure they know that they can talk to you if they’re upset about something they’ve seen online.

If they are experiencing bullying remind them that it’s not their fault and that you will address it together. Talk positively about your child’s emerging personality and the positive ways in which they are expressing it, for example in clothing, activities or behaviour – both offline and online. You might start your comment “I like it when you…..”

Ask them to think critically about images they see of people online. Ask them why they think people upload certain photos and do they think photos have been edited? Remind them that they are beautiful and that it’s important to always be yourself. Stay positive and help them understand that everyone’s different.

Catherine Knibbs

Child Trauma Psychotherapist (Cybertrauma)
Expert Website

Comparisons to another person are an innate part of being a human. We compare our babies progress, grades in school, clothes and music choices at secondary school (and beyond) and earnings/success when we reach adulthood to name a few. However, for younger children, there has been a change in the frequency to the exposure to the message of body imagery and what is considered acceptable, normal or beautiful. This can be exacerbated by celebrity idols suggesting that people are comfortable in their body and perhaps even ‘dont care about the haters’ and ‘show this off there’s no shame’(this may be a great message for adults but not young children).

Young children can be susceptible to this message and follow this up by posting images of their bodies (clothed, half-clothed or naked) in doing so this can put them at risk of negative, spiteful, hateful, hurtful or comments that are not complimentary or in the case of nakedness is breaking the law.

Each child reacts differently to each of these types of comments and it can be helpful to know that we as parents we can help our children by not negating the impact of such comments, regardless of our perception of how they look or sound to us. Knowing there is a pressure to conform is our greatest ally in talking with our child, it connects with them and they feel seen and heard and this is our precious gift to our children and creates an open space to talk with you.

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