Empowering teens to make healthy choices

Written by Harriet Fagan. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on January 05, 2012 with No Comments

Every once in a while, the media appears to redeem itself by spotlighting issues that have grown out of the industry’s own irresponsible behaviors.

Recently, the ABC News Medical Unit, for example, presented a feature entitled “Parents Should Tell Kids Picture-Perfect Celebs Aren’t Real.” The issue here is one we’ve addressed in this space before- how the media’s messages and images affect the development of self-esteem in impressionable children and teens.

Citing scientific research linking manipulated photographs to eating disorders and other health problems and the American Medical Association’s denouncement of the doctoring of photographs, ABC addresses the impact of altered images on children and teens.

The network reveals some researchers and government regulators go so far as to suggest celebrity photos should come with warning labels like those used in magazine advertisements for alcohol and cigarettes.

The warnings would indicate that the photos have been extensively altered with retouching software. Two Dartmouth researchers have gone even further, coming up with a software tool that would detect just how much fashion and beauty photographs have been altered and assign them ratings accordingly.

But, until such changes are implemented, responsibility for healthy development of your child’s body image remains with you. One way you can assist with this is by pointing out that those “perfect” complexions and bodies that dominate magazines and commercials are most often impossible to attain without the help of “Photoshopping,” or image manipulation.

I must admit to being somewhat relieved myself when I learned that Cindy Crawford’s thighs were often pulled taut for photo shoots with the aid of large clips. One can only imagine how the self-esteem of young teens becomes eroded when constantly confronted with images that tell them their bodies are far from perfect and never will be, at least not without extreme dieting or the aid of whatever goods are being promoted.

We’re all victims of society’s seeming adoration of the skinny – especially the females among us – but skinny isn’t necessarily healthy and we all want healthy children.

Ideally then, you’ll try to make your children health-focused, rather than weight-focused. You’ll provide them with healthy eating options and opportunities to be active and show them examples of healthy lifestyles and people. Children do pay attention to what we do and say; if we’re always complaining about our weight or feel pressure to change our own body shape, our children will learn that these are important matters.

Moderating your “I’m fat talk” and de-emphasizing your own perceived imperfections are musts.

How often do you comment that your thighs are “too fat,” that you need to lose weight in order to fit in smaller-sized jeans, or that you need to start a new diet? It’s common practice among women for sure.

 In fact, ABC cites a study in the Psychology of Women Quarterly that reports 93 percent of women today admit to engaging in some type of “fat talk.” Again, your children are listening to and observing your messages and behaviors, even though you may not intend your comments to be taken seriously.

Try not to make a big deal out of beauty and physical traits to begin with. Psychologists say doing so can create a great deal of anxiety for a child. Focus instead on complimenting your child’s efforts, talents, accomplishments, and personal values. After all, isn’t honesty, for example, a much more desired trait than “killer abs?”

You can be a good role model by pointing out things you like about yourself, too, no matter what your size. And, of course, you’ll never tell your child that he or she looks fat, heavy, or overweight. And, while you’re at it, you may want to limit his exposure to too many magazines bearing those enhanced body images.

A new year offers new beginnings. Instead of making a big deal of your dieting plans for 2012, why not set a goal of making your child’s feelings about himself and his body a priority?

Happy New Year.

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About Harriet Fagan

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Harriet Fagan is a mother, grandmother, freelance writer and former educator; she creates this column under the auspices of A Positive Approach to Teen Health (PATH, Inc.).

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