As individuals, we often strive to master the balance between nourishment and exercise, and as parents, we are forever trying to teach our children what it means to live a truly balanced life. However, with unlimited societal pressures to be thin, children are no longer listening to their bodies’ need for satiation, but rather are trying to be too thin. It is becoming more and more evident that negative body image affects children and young adults’ self-esteem, and creates a multitude of problems.
Self esteem is how we feel about ourselves. Human beings have a deep awareness of self. It is such a critical issue in our development that promoting children’s self-esteem has become a priority in many schools. High self-esteem is often supported by unconditional love, validation, affirmation and empowerment. Certainly, if these needs are left unmet, children will experience low self-esteem. However, there are many other reasons, why children develop low self-esteem, despite their parents’ best intentions.
Some parents believe that if they are tough with their children, this will actually improve their self-esteem. Thus, some parents will criticize childrens’ self-image profusely. Children develop an innate inability to measure up, especially when they are compared to others and this can make them feel bad about themselves. As a result, there are American five year olds who believe it is bad to be fat, and pre-teens who are dieting, at a time when their bodies are still developing. Adolescents, preoccupied with their changing bodies, experience their natural body changes as unwanted weight gain. Teens are constantly bombarded with television images of the perfect body.
As parents, in a world infiltrated with media viewing, it is not easy to ignore the messages. However, as a parent, your first goal is to help your children build self-esteem based on qualities other than physical appearance. You can set goals with your child and help your children take ownership of their accomplishments and talents. As a parent, you should talk to your children about self-esteem, body image and what it means to be beautiful. Be a healthy role model for your children.
If, your child is overweight, there are several things that you can do to help him or her without focusing solely on the weight, but rather in talking about leading a healthy lifestyle. For one, you can limit the amount of television that your child watches. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours per day. Teens and pre-teens involved in outside of school activities such as clubs, band, music lessons, part-time jobs, volunteer work, church activities, and household chores are less likely to become overweight than those who do not.
Families need to make their health a priority by exerting control over what their children eat. This can start by setting a good example. Families should make a healthy breakfast a priority, and help promote positive self-esteem in children. Having family dinners together, where nice conversation is part of the meal, actually encourages children to interact and not only focus on finishing their food. Overall, limiting the number of meals that teens eat outside of the home can help teens manage their weight and their health.
Children experience stress just as adults do. If the adults in their lives can help children manage their stress, this will also promote their self-esteem and increase their body image. First of all, begin by not criticizing others for their weight, even as a joke. Also, make sure that your child knows that you love them regardless of their weight and size. Build self-confidence and self-esteem through a range of activities, both physical and non-physical. Encourage healthy eating and physical activity for the entire family. Take the time to go on walks together.
If, despite, all intentions your child is still struggling with issues of self-esteem, attributed to body image or other issues, then perhaps it is time to seek help either through individual therapy or perhaps a group therapy program, where a child can feel support from fellow peers.
Natasha Edelhaus is a Marriage and Family Therapist, Museum friend and supporter and PARENT with an office in Stoughton, MA. She can be reached at (781) 708-4504 or via e-mail at Edelhaus@comcast.net.
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