New Research Suggests Parents Play A Key Role In A Child’s Developing Body Image


We are constantly bombarded with images of men and women in the media, in advertising, online and in fashion that teach us how to look and what an “ideal” body looks like. As an adult it is hard enough to get away from the endless distractions that threaten to take down our self-esteem. But imagine what it is like for a child who doesn’t have the coping skills of an adult to be able to navigate through the harmful messages?

There have been many studies into body image for women, one which recently came to the overwhelming conclusion that women still care what men think about their bodies. But is it enough to find solutions just for adults? Or do we need to go to the root of the problem in an attempt to stop the same harmful trends from being passed down to the next generation? Or are we too late?

A new report from Common Sense Media has determined that body image issues develop as early as 5 years old (FIVE!!!) but the good news is they say that parents and role models are in a great position to change the status quo for these young’ans.

One of the ways they tried to give parents and adults better insight into this trend was to examine both old and new forms of media, and identify where old research hasn’t given enough information. They believe there needs to be more research into whether the digital age is directly responsible for the increase in body dissatisfaction amongst kids.

“Kids and teens today are growing up in a world of 24/7 access and exposure to idealized, stereotypical, and often age-inappropriate images of how they’re supposed to look,” said Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media.

“Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image reveals the importance of positive body image for kids’ healthy development and the influential power of media to shape attitudes and behaviors, beginning when kids are very young. The report also shows that parents are in a unique position to help their kids counteract negative messages by encouraging them to use media positively, creatively, and responsibly.”

They found 80% of 10 year-old American girls have been on a diet. More than half of the girls and a third of the boys surveyed ages 6-8 indicate their ideal bodies are thinner than the current bodies they have. By age 6 most kids are aware of what dieting is and have the knowledge that it can alter their bodies, in a way that they believe would make them more desirable.

A 2010 report cited in the study indicates almost 1.3 million girls in the United States have anorexia, and more than any other physical attribute weight is associated with body dissatisfaction.

Where are all these ideas formed from and how is it happening at such a young age? They say the media is only one avenue, and digital media such as social networking sites and apps have started to factor in a big way. This is where parents come in; they have the power to counteract and limit the amount of exposure kids get when they are under their supervision.

One of the other suggestions made by the group undertaking this study suggests data needs to come from a wider range of sources in order to become more informed about the effects of new media.

“The bottom line is that we don’t know enough about how these highly interactive, social forms of media are changing the way young people develop their sense of self. More longitudinal methods are needed, and research must include the voices of children, teens, and families, as well as populations that are underrepresented: boys, young children, communities of color, and LGBTQ youth,” said Dr. Seeta Pai, author of the study and head of research at Common Sense Media.

Body image is a learned thing, it is not inherited. Dove have touched on this is a recent video advertisement where they found mothers who audibly and consistently complain about certain parts of their body teach their daughters to be unhappy with their figures in the exact same way.

Research like this is crucial, but so is action. Each of us have a role to play and can be influential in helping someone else who is suffering from low self-esteem and body image issues.

For this report, Common Sense Media conducted a review of the published research literature on body image in relation to various types of media, among children and teens, primarily in the United States. They also included relevant research among young adults and related topics such as gender roles and sexualization. They scanned popular culture for trends on this topic and developed case studies or examples as pointers for intervention.

Here is the infographic they compiled based on their findings:



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