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How parents can help kids with body insecurities

Nearly two-thirds of parents polled said their child is insecure about some aspect of their appearance.

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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

Most teenagers are self-conscious about their appearance, according to a new study from the University of Michigan.

Researchers found that nearly three out of four teenage girls (73 percent) and more than two-thirds of teenage boys (69 percent) are insecure about their looks.

More than half of girls aged eight to 12 (57 percent) and 49 percent of boys in the same age bracket were also self-conscious about their appearance.

Nearly two-thirds of parents say their child is insecure about some aspect of their appearance.

And one in five moms and dads say their teens avoid scenarios, such as being in photos, because they’re too self-conscious.

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Weight, skin conditions and hair were the most common causes of insecurities, while fewer parents listed height and facial features.

Nearly one in five parents of teenage girls said their child was self-conscious about their breasts.

The findings come from a C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital study of more than 1,650 American moms and dads with at least one child aged eight to 18 years of age.

Mott Poll co-director Doctor Susan Woolford, said: “Children begin forming opinions about their bodies and looks at a very young age.

“These findings reinforce research that as kids receive unhealthy messages about societal ideals, it can lead to a poor self-image of themselves.

"Left unchecked, a preoccupation with appearance and body dissatisfaction may lead to decreased mental health and emotional well-being and increase risks for eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem.”

The findings also showed that parents of teenagers were also more likely than parents of eight- to 12-tear-olds to report their child was insecure about their appearance.

Dr. Woolford, a child obesity expert and pediatrician at the University of Michigan, said: “As kids get older, they become more self-aware, are more likely to compare themselves to peers and may be more influenced by media portrayals about beauty and the most desirable body shape, face and look.

“It’s developmentally normal for adolescents and teens to experience some insecurities, but if it’s interfering with their ability to enjoy social interactions or other activities, they may need help.”

Nearly a third of parents say they notice their child making negative comments about their appearance.

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Among parents who say that their child is self-conscious about their looks, nearly one in three felt it has a negative impact on their child’s self-esteem while one in five says it affects their child’s willingness to participate in certain activities.

Other parents, mostly those of teens, also said their child avoids being in photos, tries to hide their appearance with clothing or restricts what they eat because of insecurities.

Negative self-thoughts are sometimes reinforced by others, according to the findings.

One in three parents said their child has been treated unkindly because of their appearance most often by other children, strangers or other family members.

Parents’ most common response is to talk with their child about the incident. Less often, they keep their child away from the person making hurtful statements or speak to the person who made the comments.

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Doctor Susan Woolford said: “Kids are watching every time you step on that scale and sigh about needing to lose weight."
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Overall, parents in the study felt that in-person interactions have a greater impact than social media on their child’s view of themselves.

However, moms and dads who described their child as self-conscious about their appearance are twice as likely to say their child is more affected by social media.

Dr. Woolford urged parents to nurture positive body and self-image in their children: “Kids are watching every time you step on that scale and sigh about needing to lose weight or point out your own perceived flaws in the mirror.

“Parents can teach their children to be media literate and savvy so they understand that these portrayals of the perfect body, face and look in advertisements, media and even from their own friends doesn’t reflect reality."

Dr. Woolford advised that, if needed, parents should limit their kids' time on those types of media platforms.

“By laying a strong foundation of healthy attitudes, parents can help their children develop a positive body image through youth and adulthood."

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