Body image and self-esteem issue paradigms our kids and youth face today are by no means new. These concepts have been around since we humans started wearing clothes, however, body image and the surrounding issues are under an increasing media microscope and are becoming more of a hot topic. It has been well documented recently that increasing rates of young people are facing the perils of bullying, eating disorders, drastic measures to achieve perfection, and in extreme cases, suicides of their friends due to the abhorrent view some of our youth have of themselves. One does not have to look far to find stories in the media surrounding this topic; a simple search in any internet browser will turn up hundreds of articles. Rather than document those here, I would like to touch on the primary undercurrent in all body image and self-esteem issues which is a lack of self-confidence. What can we do as parents and adults to raise confident and self-appreciating girls and boys alike, verses continuing this epidemic of a society that promotes self-depreciation? I believe that teaching three main concepts to our kids will help: Celebrating what makes a kid unique, teaching proper nutrition and what it really means to be healthy, and showing them that you, as their parent or close adult, are the safest place to vent or discuss anything that may be bothering them.
It is an unfortunate fact that the vast majority of us suffer from unhealthy body image and low self-esteem at times. Adults have many tools to combat these bouts of negative views of ourselves, but most often, kids with these thoughts rarely make them known. It may be a fear that they will be further ridiculed or have their thoughts and views of themselves confirmed if they admit having them. Kids often internalize things they may have felt embarrassed by. It can be as simple as someone in their circle making a joke at another child’s expense to facilitate a pattern of unhealthy thoughts. This often results in paradoxical extremes taken by our kids to achieve a certain type of look, or to fit in. Eating disorders are a common resort many youth fall into, and without proper support at crucial times, can affect their life and health for many years to come.
If we celebrate what makes our kids unique, and instill in them that it is perfectly fine to be explicitly them, we start to sow the seeds in our kid’s minds that it’s ok to not always “run with the crowd”. Most people, who are successful, find what makes them unique and continue to develop that uniqueness to stand out from the crowd. Standing out is what makes any celebrated personalities in our society noticed. We can help our kid’s develop whatever makes them shine and be the starting place of their own confident responses to any nay-sayers in their circles.
Aside from a unique, confident kid, a truly nutritionally and health-aware kid will only help bolster the tool box you as a parent or adult can build. Eating disorders in youth are on the rise and are recognized by mental health professionals as one of the leading causes of young generation stress that leads to unhealthily behaviors. While complex, the true crux of an eating disorder is the desire for control of something when everything else feels out of control. Young teens are especially susceptible as their hormones change and they receive pressures to look a certain way from many sources. However, if a youth is aware how to control what they put in their body, by making healthy food choices through proper nutrition and having an active life style, they will soon learn that proper eating and healthy activity help them feel good. Finding a physical activity kids can be involved in on a routine basis and helping them to make good food choices will help their overall mental stability.
It’s important that if you suspect that a child is experiencing unhealthy body image or self-esteem that you do not let what you notice go by in silence or hidden underneath an emotional wall. It may be easy to chalk up suspicious behavior or comments to a growing attitude or a passing phase, but when a child is allowed to let the unhealthy thoughts about themselves spiral in their own mind, with an endless potential to grow and metastasize to affect their self-image, that it is a fertile ground for things like eating disorders or other extreme measures start. Trust your instincts and challenge that concept from growing into something more severe. If you can’t break through to your child, find someone or a health professional who can, but continue to reiterate that you will not judge them and you are a safe place for them to vent about anything that is bothering them. Even if you have to say the message a hundred times, or hundreds of times, it’s something your child will need to hear. A healthy support network around our kids will exponentially help them to develop a healthy self-esteem and a strong confidence in who they are.This writer does not have all the answers, but as an adult who has had to grow out of being a young person with many of the issues mentioned here, these things would be what I wish someone would have helped me with when I was young. Celebrating uniqueness, fostering healthy and active mindsets, and having a safe place to let whatever is bothering a mind out, I feel is a good start to making a more self-confident youth. We all, myself included, absolutely can do a better job as parents and adults to let our children know they are only ever asked to be themselves and that is the best possible outcome to have. Being self-confident and healthy will help lead to a good mindset and body image throughout their and our lives.