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 junior, 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. Says Sarah Chua Focus on the Family’s parenting specialist, “The direct link between media exposure to thin model images and immediate body image dissatisfaction is well documented [in research].”
Notes Dr Alakananda Gudi, an associate consultant at Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Department of Psychiatry, “Some of these [body images] reflected in the media are unattainable and unrealistic for the regular person in the street!
She points 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, which leads to eating or exercising in secrecy.
- Feelings of alienation and loneliness, being out of control, helpless and hopeless,
- Fall into despair, depression and even suicidal thoughts.
Worse, a negative body image can trigger a eating disorder, such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, in your tween. Dr Gudi adds 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), notes 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 urges that parents help their kids build a strong and healthy relationship with their body from young.
Here are expert tips to teach your offspring to love their bodies…
1. Let your them know they are valued Your tween’s adolescent years are bound to be one of the more awkward periods of her life. Chua says, “One way to show your teenager that she is valued, is to carve out time to connect with her daily.” This can be as simple as having a conversation in the car, over dinner. What matters is taking the time to understand her likes, dislikes and deepest thoughts. Chua stresses when your child feels heard, she will also feel worthy and respected.
2. Celebrate her strengths As parents, it is easy to get focus on stressing on improvements junior can make. But what matters more is acknowledging your child’s strengths and talk about them. Chua stresses, “Be her cheerleader by pointing out specific instances when your teenager’s strengths have shone through.” And do it routinely. So slowly but surely, your young ’un will begin to see herself in a new and more positive light.
3. Mind what you say about your own body Tan explains the way in which parents, family members, teachers and other adults speak to your kiddo 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.”
4. Teach junior 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 points out, “As she gets older, educate [junior] 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.”
5. Encourage them to forge positive friendships Media aside, your child’s friends have immense influence on how they view themselves. So, steer her 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.
6. Urge junior to pick up a sport or activity Making it a point to engage in physical exercise won’t just boost agility, it can have esteem-boosting effects, too. Tan suggests, “Allow children to run, explore and play freely, so they have a positive relationship with and understanding of their own body and its capabilities.”
7. Encourage and eat a healthy balanced diet as a family There’s no good food or bad food as long as it is eaten in moderation. Dr Gudi points out, “We all need carbohydrates, fats and proteins for normal happy and healthy functioning of the body.”
Where to get help?
If you notice junior 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, your kiddo, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call these helplines:
* Aware: 1800-777-5555, 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.
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