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Talking To Kids About Weight & Body Image In The Digital Age

Posted on August 5, 2017 by Stacy Leatherwood Cannon MD

Talking to your kids about weight and body image is hard enough. Now add the information they’re constantly bombarded with every day online, on television and on social media – and your job just got a lot tougher.

But for all the complications the digital age presents in having these talks, (you can’t control everything they see, after all) there’s one very big upside: that imagery also gives you many different opportunities to start the conversation.

Here’s what you need to know to give your kids a solid foundation:

  • It starts with health. Place the focus on being healthy, instead of being a certain weight. Emphasize that skinny doesn’t necessarily mean healthy; healthy people come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Understand his or her body type. Kids come in all shapes and sizes, and the ideal weight range for one child is not necessarily the ideal weight for another. That goes for body mass index, or BMI, too. Talk to your pediatrician to help find a healthy goal or range that’s appropriate for your child’s specific height and body type and look for images with similar body types to help him or her relate.
  • Be aware of how you talk about yourself. Like it or not, the perspective your child will take is affected by your own behaviors and mindset. Having parents who exhibit healthy self-esteem and attitudes sets up a good model for kids. On the flip side, making constant judgments about yourself in front of your child teaches them those bad behaviors.
  • Start young. From baby dolls to cartoons to images on tablets or even phones, your kids see examples of what people look like from an early age. They’re even likely to envy them at times. Use opportunities where they say they wish they had a certain physical characteristic to ask your kids what they like about themselves, too. Positive reinforcement about their own appearance is crucial.
  • Tell them it’s not real. Point out how the images kids see online, in ads or on television are often not accurate and modified. It’s important for them to understand what’s fake and what’s not. No one’s perfect, and if someone’s body proportions, the shininess of their hair or the flawlessness of their face looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Banish the word “diet.” Children as young as 7 know what a diet is and can tell when you’re on one, so choose your words carefully. If you’re trying to change your own body, talk about wanting to be fitter, more active, healthier or stronger – instead of skinnier. Children pick up on dieting cues.
  • Find non-traditional images. Does your child have freckles? Curly hair? A prominent nose? Do a quick search online to help you find images that resemble him or her. This way they can see that real beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
  • Emphasize the whole picture. There’s nothing wrong with your kids identifying someone who is pretty or has a good figure, but it’s up to you to call attention to the idea that looks are just one part of it. People can also be smart, athletic, funny and generous – teach them that you are more than your looks, even if you do have a million followers online.
  • Keep your eyes open. It’s not possible to censor every negative body image that your children see, but you should generally be aware of what they’re looking at and who they’re talking to. Follow them on social media. It will help you get a solid sense of their confidence level.
  • Use your opportunities. If you see a video about bullying, ask your child whether kids say things like that to other kids at school. Ask him or her how they would respond to help make sure they don’t just copy their peers. There are chances every day to start the conversation; you just need to choose one.

Talking about self-esteem, weight and body image is a very personal conversation. Work hard not to hurt your child’s feelings, and pay attention to your own views. While it’s all too easy to find fault in your own behaviors, punishing yourself isn’t the solution. Instead, confront how you may be contributing to any issues, get past them and stay positive.

Most importantly, make being a healthy weight, eating right and being active a family thing. Despite the digital images all around your kids, it all comes down to the culture at home. Your family as a whole can make healthy and active words and positive reinforcement part of who you are, so your kids will be less affected by what they see.

To make an appointment with a pediatrician, visit or call 1-800-HENRY-FORD (436-7936).

Categories : ParentWell

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