Long brown hair. Deep brown eyes.
Italian-toned skin. Curvy but muscular.
That might be how I would describe myself to someone over the phone or to someone unable to see me behind a curtain.
But what if I described myself as:
Caring. Giving. Supportive of friends.
Dreamer. Determined. In spite of fear.
I encourage and educate. Lift others up.
Don’t you think I would want to be remembered by the latter description? Characteristics that will live on long after I am gone and not just the physical characteristics that we often hold in high regard?
Self-image is not an easy topic. And while I am not a doctor or a psychiatrist, I wanted to provide some resources for parents of adolescent (and even elementary) children to turn to. In this day and age, we see more and more children relying on social media (Facebook likes, Instagram hearts, retweets on Twitter and Snapchat pics) to validate who they are. This was supposed to be a generation that praised kids for a job well done and didn’t put any negativity in the path of our youth. But yet it’s still a generation that lacks confidence, self-worth and esteem.
As I watched these videos to put in this post, my 6.5 year old daughter sat next to me, asking questions about what was happening and why they were changing the picture of the woman.
“Would you want someone to change the way you look for a magazine?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “And I think you’re beautiful the way you are, Mom.”
“And you are even more beautiful here, babe,” as I point to her heart. “Do you know where that is?”
“Inside…in my heart,” she replied.
I know in my mind I must keep instilling that in her as she grows older. Now that this topic has been brought to her attention, I hope we continue to learn from it.
Make your child aware of mass media and social media. Help them understand the difference between passing comments and life-long friends. We may feel good for a moment when someone says “You look so beautiful”, but as days, months and years pass, are those people standing by your side as a faithful friend?
While photoshopping may or may have a direct impact on a child’s body image, it is something to be aware of.
- A father’s letter to his daughter just might describe what we ultimately hope for our children (girls and boys). I encourage you to read the whole thing.
“Naked. The world wants you to take your clothes off. Please keep them on. But take your gloves off. Pull no punches. Say what is in your heart. Be vulnerable. Embrace risk. Love a world that barely knows what it means to love itself. Do so nakedly. Openly. With abandon.”
- “People generally fall short of the media ideal, which is why I advocate helping youngsters prepare for adolescence in their elementary years, building up their skills so they have proof that they are more than an image. Youngsters who have pride in accomplishment are more anchored.“
- “You say, “I know this bad stuff feels like it’s true, but it tears me down.” And you make the choice to think otherwise. Every aspect of you is created by the brain revising itself in response to your interactions in the world—and I mean everything. How you define yourself—the person you are—is a product of plastic changes in your brain. That includes things that relate to your attitude and your emotional construct. What you are is a result of how your brain has tried to create a model of the world, and the brain is plastic until you die.”
- “So know where your own joy resides: What are you good at? What do you enjoy? What is meaningful? What is going to keep making you happy for a long time?”
“Hey Mom…can I have a bite of that?”
“Sure,” I said, thinking there was no way my 4 year old son would even give brussel sprouts a chance. We had only had them a few times before, but found a way to cook them that made them absolutely delicious. And yes, they are good for you, so we wanted to eat them more often. At first, I didn’t put them on my kids plate (to be honest, I didn’t think they would eat them), but looking back, it may have been a good thing.
My son took a bite of the crispy leaves on the outside and the salty flavor that enveloped the sprout. His eyes lit up.
“Mmmm…This is good! Can I have some more?”
And that was it. Perhaps they saw that this strange green vegetable was just a normal food that we eat every day.
Kids will grow into their own personalities as time goes on, and we certainly can’t put them in a bubble and protect them from everything, but they will see us respond, act, make decisions, behave, eat and live on a daily basis.
- Your kids will imitate you. Use it as a force for good.
- Kids mimic parents’ diets from an early age. In a study of 120 young children who were allowed to “buy” food from a play grocery store, researchers found that even 2-year-olds tended to mirror their parents’ usual food choices.
Yesterday was the first of a six part series on adolescent girls behavioral health. (I am certain there is good info out there for boys as well. Young boys do not escape these same issues and I’m sure the webinar series could be equally as helpful for parents of boys.) Some of the topics are:
Growing up Girl: Adolescent Development and the Unique Issues Facing Girls
Girl in the Mirror: Behavioral Health Challenges of Adolescent Girls
Digital Girls: Confession, Connection and Disconnection
Use the links and resources above to help you become an informed parent. The more you become aware of the issues in your child’s culture, the better you are able to teach them to be strong and confident, despite failures, struggles and setbacks.
(This is by no means a comprehensive list of resources available for youth body image. I am not a doctor or a psychologist, nor do I play one on TV.)