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Children and the Importance of Positive Body Image

Parents have much more influence over their children than peer groups do. By partnering with your child, sharing your feelings and values about both food and friendship, you can support her fears and doubts, while modeling healthy eating patterns.
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If you have an overweight child, how secure is she with her body image? Between social media, television, film, and advertising, today's generation of young girls and boys are even more exposed to conflicting messages about their bodies. Today's teen spends a large part of her day perfecting and correcting her body image trying to achieve an unrealistic outcome. This never-ending struggle for perfection can leave your teen not only dissatisfied with the way she looks but also the way she feels about herself, both emotionally and physically.

Early patterns inform your adult behavior, and to the extent that you can acknowledge and recognize those patterns, you have an opportunity to integrate them, so that they don't control and compel you. How your child views her body image can become a powerful pattern that may impact both her self-esteem and feelings of self-worth... forevermore. Teasing and peer-group criticism has a tremendous power over your teen, can cause insecurity, and in extreme cases, dysmorphia -- a condition that creates dissatisfaction with body image. In an effort to correct an imperfect body perception, your teen can resort to destructive behavior such as vomiting, bulimia, anorexia, extreme exercising, and insecure social experiences. These problems, if not treated, can follow your child into adulthood.

Parents have the power.
Parents have much more influence over their children than peer groups do. By partnering with your child, sharing your feelings and values about both food and friendship, you can support her fears and doubts, while modeling healthy eating patterns. By using my empathic process to communicate and actively listen without defense, you will invest your child in her own style of self-managing both her weight and emotions.

Further, if you create a healthy home, filled with good, fresh and low-calorie foods, including fruit and vegetable options, instead of candy, cake and ice cream, your child will feel that you are supporting her, that you are with her and that she can count on you. Be what you want to see. Children learn through social modeling. Be authentic and follow a healthy routine yourself, including exercise and good food. This will go a long way to a healthy weight outcome for your child.

Signs to watch for
Know your child. Look for changes in eating, weight, bathroom time, medications, sleep, and social changes. If things get out of hand, seek professional help. Parents are entitled to parent, so supervise your child and know her peer group, and what influence the group has on her.

Unhealthy messages in the media
Feedback is often missing in a celebrity-driven, thin culture. Sons and daughters caught in the web of body dysmorphia, see themselves unrealistically. Pressure from media, especially on the young, including elementary school children, is especially destructive, and it has long-term effects, not just from the pressure to be perfect, but from the fear of not being perfect. Self-criticism in children without coping skills can be so painful, that it can even cause death. Whether it's social media, magazine and television advertisements, or models on a runway, your child can be receiving unhealthy messages, that may cause her to develop unhealthy strategies - trying to create and maintain a consumer-driven physique.

Time to get real
We can get real. I call this my "keep it real" campaign, since 80 percent of all 10-year-old American girls have already been on a diet and have lost touch with a normal body image. Knowledge is power and educating your child about body changes in adolescence, as well as pointing out the unrealistic body types created by airbrushed celebrities, can help your child embrace her normal body image. Maintaining a healthy body has its own advantages and can help your teen feel good, both mentally and physically. Then she can focus on her relationship with herself, her self-esteem, and her authentic peer-group.

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If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.