Sept. 1, 2017, 8:28 p.m.
Today’s social pressures on young people are at an all time high. With the help of social media, our children and their peers now have greater access to information to compare and judge their own lives to those around them. As they re-enter the school system this September, these mere snapshots in time continue to guide their assumptions as to what it means to be likeable, popular, beautiful, happy and successful. As they grapple with the constant flow of information, they may be at an increased risk of self-judgment, low self-esteem and negative body image.
As parents, we all want our children to grow up feeling confident and self-assured. We want them to feel that they are worthwhile and well liked. But most of all, we want them to be happy. How as parents can we best support our children through these sometimes confusing and often unrealistic social standards created by their peers, the media and social media as they enter a new school year?
Encourage your children to make meaningful social connections
I remember as a teenager believing that the more friends you have the happier you would be. This was actually never the case. Yes having a lot of friends can give us the impression that we are popular and well liked but actually what’s most important to our confidence and self-esteem is having a few meaningful friends who really “get” us. These are the people who remind us through their support and connection that we are valued and special and therefore worthwhile.
Promoting a positive body image
Today, children and teenagers are more dissatisfied with their body image – their bodies and shape – than ever before. The pressure to live up to an unrealistic beauty ideal has created a struggle in our children to develop a positive relationship with their bodies. With education and positive role modeling, parents have the ability to help prevent eating and image issues in their children and combat body dissatisfaction. Some tips include complimenting your children on their skills and abilities rather than on their appearance, promoting activities that make them feel good about themselves and modeling a non-dieting/body acceptance culture in your home.
Teach your kids to be more critical of the messages and images that appear in the media or on social media
When watching television or a movie or surfing through social media, start a conversation with your child about the many images that are portrayed. If a commercial for a makeup brand shows a beautiful and flawless woman, help your child to understand that these images are unrealistic and have been retouched or manipulated to appear perfect. If a picture on social media portrays a friend or peer happy or around many friends, remind your child that these images are just a moment in time and may not accurately represent what’s going on in the person’s life or how they always feel.
Be available to talk to your kids
As your children try to navigate through the social pressures that their peers, the media and social media put on them, they will be looking for a safe place to talk through their emotions and questions. Being available for your children to connect and talk about their insecurities and stressors can actually improve your child’s self-esteem. Validating all of their emotions will communicate to them that it is normal to have feelings. Standing beside them on this journey will help them to understand and to make meaning of their emotions.
Lindsay Ross MSW RSW is the founder and director of Midtown Toronto Therapy. For the past 10+ years she has been working in the field of mental health providing individual and couples therapy in both hospitals and private practice. For more information on Lindsay and Midtown Toronto Therapy, please visit their website at www.midtowntorontotherapy.com.
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