Get answers to top parenting questions here. How to help your kid be happy and secure in a media-heavy, appearance-obsessed culture. How’s this for a scary statistic: Studies show that kids as young as 5 say they learning how to read for preschoolers’t like their bodies.
Common Sense Media’s survey of body-image research shows that parents play a huge role in shaping how kids think and feel about their bodies. Starting to bolster kids’ body image early, even in preschool, can make a big difference in how kids feel about themselves as they grow up. Here are five ways to immunize your kids against poor body image, with conversation starters, media picks, and resources to support your discussions. Avoid stereotypes in your kids’ media — starting when kids are in preschool. Look for TV shows, movies, and other media that portray healthy body sizes and avoid sexualized or stereotypical story lines or gendered characters, such as young girls in makeup or boys who are always macho. Pay attention to kids’ beliefs about gender and body types, and use simple language to debunk stereotypes: “What do you think Andy would like for his birthday? Do you think he’d like dolls, too?
Whenever possible, use gender-neutral or gender-diverse pronouns to reference characters, animals, and so on. For example, not every dinosaur is a “he” and every kitten a “she. Call out stereotypes when you see them. When you see gender stereotypes in media — for example, during sporting events such as the Super Bowl — talk about them. Ask: “Do you think she’s cold in that bikini? Teach kids how magazine and advertising photos are changed by computers to make skin look smoother or people look taller. Make a game out of it: Spot the Photoshop!
RESOURCES: What Are Boys Learning from the Super Bowl? Ask kids what they think about heavyset or slim toys or characters on TV and in movies. Keep an ear out for kids expressing assumptions about real people based on their body sizes. Barbie now offers size and ethnic variety!
TV — and that variety is normal, healthy, and part of what makes life interesting. Tap into preschoolers’ ability to empathize by asking how they think a TV character felt when criticized for his or her appearance. Ask: “How would you feel if someone teased you like that? Ban “fat talk” in your family. Parents — especially mothers — who complain about their appearances or bodies, even casually, make a big impact on how their kids think about their bodies. Model a positive attitude toward your own body, and encourage kids to think positively about what their bodies can do.
Ask: “What can you do with those strong arms? Discuss health instead of weight or size. Say: “My body feels so energetic when I eat healthy food. FACTS: According to Common Sense Media’s Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, kids who think their moms don’t like their bodies end up not liking their own bodies.
And girls whose dads are critical of their weight tend to think of themselves as less physically able than those whose dads don’t. Focus on behavior, talents, and character traits instead of physical size or appearance. When discussing fictional characters, celebrities, and friends and family, talk about what they do, not what they look like. Talk about qualities such as kindness, curiosity, and perseverance that you value more than appearance. Ask: “What makes a good friend? Say: “She must have practiced for a long time to be good at dancing!
Prepare kids for when they hear others commenting, comparing, or criticizing bodies or appearance. Role-play situations where kids can try out different responses, such as, “I don’t care what she looks like. She’s friendly, and that’s what matters to me. Sierra has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade, with a special interest in women’s and family subjects. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley. How do I make a website that I could show how inspirational I am? I believe everyone should have confidence because it defines them.
We receive no payment, and our editors have vetted each partner and hand-select articles we think you’ll like. By clicking and leaving this site, you may view additional content that has not been approved by our editors. Common Sense is the nation’s leading nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in the 21st century. Headquartered in San Francisco, with offices in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D. Look out for our weekly updates soon.