Encouraging positive body image in tweens
Cultural pressures and technology make it hard, but here are tips for helping your tween develop a positive body image.
It’s not easy being a tween these days in a society where selfies and skinny jeans are popular. Tween girls deal with overwhelming pressure from their peers and pop culture, and body image issues in children and teens are a serious issue. The good news is that parents can be positive role models and help their kids develop healthy body images.
As a mom of two girls, I feel responsible for helping monitor the impact of pop culture and media on my girls’ self-images.
When my daughter was in 6th grade, her Girl Scout troop focused on the media’s impact on their lives. They learned about things like marketing and messaging and how advertisers use compelling words and Photoshopped imagery to create an image of beauty that’s not what real women and real beauty look like.
It’s an ongoing balance for me to encourage my daughters to have a positive body image while not succumbing to cultural pressures on me to stay young and youthful. From my experience, here are some ways parents of tweens can encourage their kids to have positive body image.
Keep the dialogue going.
Always encourage an open-door policy for your tween. The transitional time from childhood to the teen years can be overwhelming, and children at this age are going through many physical and emotional changes. Help your child be comfortable discussing issues about peer pressure and other questions about changing emotions and body. There are also several books that can help tweens navigate the changes they’re going through (“Discovery Girls” and “American Girl” are two of our favorites).
Focus on wellness and health, not weight and appearance.
I’m guilty of discussing my weight and frustrations about my own appearance in front of my girls. I try, however, to focus on staying fit and healthy and establishing lifelong wellness habits with my girls. Make discussions about healthy habits such as nutritious after-school snacks and drinking enough water part of your family dialogue, and take part in active outings together such as family walks.
Teach your child how the media influences body image.
Pop culture dictates much of what is cool for tweens. Talk to your kids about how fashionable clothes and accessories and makeup are superficial and sometimes faddish. Their self-worth should focus on things that go beyond appearances and the latest trends. Encourage them to have their own style and not just follow the pack.
Monitor technology use.
By 6th grade, most of my daughter’s friends were on Instagram and many of her peers were on Facebook. Monitor your tween’s technology use, whether it be on a smartphone or laptop, and keep an open dialogue going about cyberbullying. Encourage your tweens to unplug and suggest reading a book, writing a letter to a friend or grandparent or going for a bike ride.
It’s inevitable that today’s tweens will be bombarded by digital and traditional media portrayals of beauty. A Barbie-inspired plastic surgery iPhone game app for girls was pulled from the Google store, making national news.
Engaging in open dialogue about healthy choices, realistic viewpoints about beauty and peer pressure will help your tween make positive decisions and maintain a healthy level of self-esteem.