With advertising or commercial messaging touching most areas of a young person’s life, it brings with it notions about the value placed on beauty and appearance. That’s why it’s more important than ever that they understand exactly what is being suggested, sold and promised to them with the impact on body image being significant for both girls and boys. “Traditional” mainstream media – television, movies, music, magazines, advertising – contain unrealistic, idealised, and stereotypical portrayals of body types.
Media Smart defines a person’s body image ‘as the collection of thoughts and feelings they have about their body and the way it looks and how they think it is perceived by others..and is an important part of a person’s mental health and emotional wellbeing’.
Body image develops in early childhood as does poor body image or body dissatisfaction where the child may feel ashamed or embarrassed about how they appear to others. While girls are more likely to feel constant pressure to live up to relentless and unrealistic appearance ideals that are promoted in the media that surrounds them, the daily media exposure for boys is also leading to idealised male bodies.
Media Smart is at the forefront of providing advice to parents about how they can help their child develop positive body image and build emotional resilience to the relentless exposure to advertising and media in the following ways:
TALK POSITIVELY ABOUT THEIR BODY AND WHAT IT CAN DO RATHER THAN HOW IT LOOKS
It is never too early to give messages to your children about loving and appreciating their bodies, e.g. “Nobody’s looks are perfect, let’s focus on what you like about yourself”. The teenage years are a key time for body image worries to increase and you still have a critical role to play. Your views and the ability to keep communication open at this time will make all the difference.
BE A GOOD ROLE MODEL
Children are very aware of their parents’ attitudes and behaviours. For instance, avoid comparing yourself to images you see in magazines. Instead, show them that you are able to identify and evaluate the messages within adverts, especially those that relate to appearance. Try to refrain from criticising your own or others’ bodies and appearance.
RECOGNISE YOUR CHILD’S QUALITIES AND SKILLS WHEN YOU PRAISE THEM
Emphasise what you appreciate about their character and skills rather than focusing on their appearance, e.g. “You always make me laugh, I love your sense of humour!” or “You’re a great listener for your friend – she obviously values your support”.
MANAGE THEIR SCREEN TIME
Research has shown that when children spend a lot of time in front of screens, such as on social media or playing computer games, it can have a negative impact on their body image and self-esteem. Try to ensure that there are screen-free times during the day.
KEEP COMMUNICATION OPEN
Provide plenty of opportunities to have conversations with your child where they feel they can open up about their feelings. Listen to their concerns and worries. Be mindful not to jump in to offer advice but recognise what they have said and help them come up with their own solutions, e.g. “You sound upset, I wonder what you could do that might help”.
Supporting your child to develop a strong sense of their own worth and identity from a young age will better prepare them to develop positive self-esteem and body image. This will be invaluable when they reach adolescence and more likely to be confronted with the ideals of perfection in advertising, television, magazines and social media.