SINGAPORE: Puberty is a journey of changes and self-discovery for a growing child. It is also a time when you are likely to experience trouble communicating with your children, who would prefer to confide in their friends.
Social media also has an immense influence on your impressionable young tween, especially when it comes to their looks and plays a part in perpetuating unhealthy body images in young people’s minds. Parenting specialist at Focus on the Family, Sarah Chua said: “The direct link between media exposure to thin model images and immediate body image dissatisfaction is well documented (in research).”
Dr Alakananda Gudi, an associate consultant at Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Department of Psychiatry also noted: “Some of these (body images) reflected in the media are unattainable and unrealistic for the regular person in the street!
She also pointed out that a negative body image can also result in a host of psychological and social problems, including:
- Anxiety and self-doubt.
- Guilt and shame.
- Fear of being labelled as fat.
- Feelings of alienation and loneliness, being out of control, helpless and hopeless.
- Fall into despair, depression and even have suicidal thoughts.
Worse, a negative body image can trigger an eating disorder, such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. Dr Gudi added that eating disorders do not discriminate between genders. Yet, most boys only seek treatment at a later and more severe stage of their illness because of social stigma and the false idea that eating disorder is a female condition.
A negative body image can also result in a host of psychological and social problems, including anxiety and self-doubt.
Jolene Tan, who heads advocacy and research at the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), noted that girls are far more likely than boys to be affected by comments from family, friends and the media that their appearances matter over those of her work, talents or personality. She urged parents to help their kids build a strong and healthy relationship with their body from young.
Here are some experts' tips on how to teach your offspring to love their bodies:
LET YOUR CHILDREN KNOW THEY ARE VALUED
Your children’s adolescent years are bound to be one of the most awkward periods of their life. Chua said: “One way to show your teenager that they are valued, is to carve out time to connect with them daily.” This can be as simple as having a conversation in the car, over dinner. What matters is taking the time to understand their likes, dislikes and deepest thoughts. Chua stressed when your children feel heard, they will also feel worthy and respected.
CELEBRATE THEIR STRENGTHS
As parents, it is easy to get focus on stressing on improvements your kids can make. But what matters more is acknowledging your children’s strengths and talk about them.
“Be their cheerleader by pointing out specific instances when your teenagers’ strengths have shone through,” Chua highlighted. And do it routinely. So slowly but surely, your young ones will begin to see themselves in a new and more positive light.
MIND WHAT YOU SAY ABOUT YOUR OWN BODY
Tan explained the way in which parents, family members, teachers and other adults speak to your children lays the foundation for self-esteem and a healthy relationship with their bodies. “Research has found that mothers who often talk about dieting or engage in criticism of their own bodies can negatively impact their daughters.”
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO BE MEDIA-SAVVY
Not everything on social media and TV is what it seems. From a young age, you should buy books or watch television programmes that show a diversity of body sizes, skin colour and hair types. Tan pointed out: “As they get older, educate (them) about the reality of altered, airbrushed images in magazines and on TV.
“Research has found that mothers who often talk about dieting or engage in criticism of their own bodies can negatively impact their daughters.”
ENCOURAGE THEM TO FORGE POSITIVE FRIENDSHIPS
Media aside, your children’s friends have immense influence on how they view themselves. So, steer them towards nurturing friendships based on common interests, laughter and genuine concern. Be sure to share stories from the news or your own experiences to illustrate the effects of mixing with bad company.
URGE YOUR KIDS TO PICK UP A SPORT OR ACTIVITY
Making it a point to engage in physical exercise won’t just boost agility and keep weight in check, it can have esteem-boosting effects, too.
“Allow children to run, explore and play freely, so they have a positive relationship with and understanding of their own body and its capabilities,” Tan suggested.
ENCOURAGE AND EAT A HEALTHY AND BALANCED DIET AS A FAMILY
There’s no good food or bad food as long as it is eaten in moderation.
“We all need carbohydrates, fats and proteins for normal happy and healthy functioning of the body,” Dr Gudi pointed out.
WHERE TO GET HELP
If you notice your kids displaying signs of an eating disorder or psychological issues, seek help at the Department of Psychology Service at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Call 6294-4050 to make an appointment.
Alternatively, children aged 13 and above, can get a referral from a polyclinic or family GP to the SGH’s Eating Disorders Programme for an assessment by a psychiatrist. You can also e-mail your questions to email@example.com.
Call these helplines:
- Aware: 1800-7745-935, open weekdays from 3pm to 9.30pm — General counselling or emotional support for young women in need.
- Twinkle Friend, by the Singapore’s Children’s Society: 1800-2744-788 or chat online at www.twinklefriend.com.
A version of this story first appeared in SmartParents