Most of us look back on the first ten years of life and recall happy memories. We played outside, we enjoyed our hobbies, and for those few precious years, we experienced the freedom from worrying about the way that we looked. When did young kids become plagued with the same worries over body image as adults?
Body Image: How Worried are Our Kids?
According to research from the University College London Institute of Child Health, kids are more worried about body image than ever. The study followed 6,000 kids from the age of eight through 14. While at the youngest end of the spectrum, only five percent of the girls and three percent of the boys reported experiencing bad body image. While five percent may not sounds like much, it amounts to 300 eight-year-old girls feeling bad about the way they look. This alone is unacceptable, but the news gets worse: By the time these girls were 14 years old, a startling 39 percent reported being on a diet. Some even reported binging and other unhealthy behaviors.
The study results are clear. When issues with body image and self-esteem begin young, they grow much worse over time. If we want to prevent teen eating disorders, we need to make promoting healthy self-image a priority.
Bad Self-image: Is the Media to Blame?
Blaming the media is common, and studies are showing that this blame is not misplaced. When the children in the study were asked their opinion about how the media affects them, a fifth of the girls responded that the media made them feel a lot of pressure to lose weight. This isn’t very surprising. If adults are influenced by the media, imagine how children feel?
Eating Disorders: How Complex is the Issue?
Boosting our kids’ self-esteem is key to avoiding eating disorders. The problem is that everyone doesn’t develop self-esteem at the same age. Every child is different, and therefore, a blanket approach to improving body-image issues might not be the best route. Extra attention may also be needed for kids who have a genuine weight problem. The study found that kids with a high body-mass index were at greater risk for developing an eating disorder. The risk was also higher when one or both parents had a history of eating disorders.
Clearly, we need to tackle these issues on all fronts if we expect to make progress. The media, the culture of your family, and peer pressure all have a strong effect on your child’s body image. Treating your child as an individual and getting to the root of the problem are crucial. Once you figure out what is going on in your child’s head, it will be easier to figure out what to do from there. Don’t hesitate to talk to a counselor when necessary.