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How to help youngsters develop a positive body image

Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

A childcare charity has revealed that children as young as three are showing signs of being unhappy with their appearance and bodies.

The study further stated that almost a third of nursery and school staff said they had heard a child label themselves as “fat” while 10 percent of children felt “ugly.” It is upsetting to learn that nearly a quarter of those surveyed said that children aged between three and five were unhappy with their appearance and this figure is almost double for nearly half of six to 10-year-olds. Additionally, more than half of them said girls were more conscious of their looks than boys.

Dr. Jacqueline Harding, Director of Tomorrow’s Child, said: “By the age of three or four some children have already pretty much begun to make up their minds – and even hold strong views – about how bodies should look. There is also research evidence to suggest that some four -year-olds are aware of strategies to lose weight.”

Harding added: “We know for sure that early experiences matter the most and we need to be very careful about how (even inadvertently) we signal to children that they should think negatively about their bodies and how they look.”


Are girls more conscious of their looks than boys?

The Good Childhood Report 2016 conducted by Children’s Society (their fifth in-depth study into children’s well-being) suggests that girls in Britain are becoming unhappier – 14% of girls aged between 10 to 15-years are unhappy with their lives as a whole and 34% with their appearance. However, the study found that boys’ sense of happiness remained stable.

Lucy Capron from the Children’s Society told BBC in a radio interview: “This isn’t something which can be explained away by hormones or just the natural course of growing up, actually this is something that we need to take seriously and we need to address.”

In the same report, each gender was analysed separately to determine what ‘happiness’ meant for both girls and boys.

▪ Happiness with appearance was significantly more strongly associated with emotional problems for girls than boys.

▪ Happiness with life was more strongly associated with emotional problems and behaviour problems for girls than boys.

▪ Happiness with appearance and with life as a whole were significantly more strongly associated with total difficulties scores for girls than boys.

This proves that associations between emotional problems and happiness with appearance and life as a whole, are strongest for girls.

What advice would you give your teenage girls?

Body image expert Nicky Hutchinson said: “It’s this generation. You have to promote yourself all the time, it’s a PR job.”

Hutchinson added that social media has encouraged people to present a personal brand from a young age and to seek reassurance in the form of likes and shares, which undoubtedly amounts to enormous pressure on girls.

Also, the physical changes that teenage girls experience after reaching puberty, makes them feel more self-conscious and the issue escalates when young girls begin comparing themselves with photoshopped images of models and actors. In such situations, parents and teachers have the power to change the way they think and feel.

Here’s how you can help them develop a healthy body image:

Encourage them to express their feelings

Firstly, you need to find out what teens are really thinking about their body image. This makes it easier for you to help them overcome their insecurities and to become more confident about their body. Ask these questions:

  • What is it that you like about your body the most?
  • Which body part would you like to replace?
  • According to you, which celebrity, athlete or a model has an ideal body?
  • Are you satisfied with your body weight and height?


Boost teenage self-esteem

If your teen has a negative body image, then they will also be a victim of low self-esteem and low confidence. In order to boost confidence, ensure that you give compliments and highlight their positive features and traits on a regular basis. Parents and teachers play a very important role in influencing teenagers – your positive words will surely make them feel good and add to their confidence.

Talk about artificial perfection

Youngsters are glued to the internet and television these days and hence begin comparing their own bodies with images of actors and models. You must explain to your teen that everything they watch online or on TV is not entirely true. Talk to them about all the factors that go into making people look like the way they do online/TV, which includes: lighting effects, makeup, camera angles, etc. Furthermore, encourage them to think beyond appearances; body weight, height and skin colour.

Act as a role model

If you really want to make an impact on young people, then you must practice what you preach. Refrain from voicing negative opinions about other people’s appearance, especially words like ‘fat’ and ‘thin’, instead, consider using neutral terms like ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’. The narrative surrounding body image largely determines the way youngsters feel about their own bodies. Changing the way we speak about appearance and body types can have a powerful impact in the long term.

To learn more about safeguarding children online connect with us on LinkedIn or follow us on Twitter.

Is inadequate sex education leading to a ‘safeguarding crisis’?

Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

The Shh … No Talking report, published in July this year, suggested that sex and relationship education in UK schools was “unfit” for the smartphone generation, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, bullying and poor mental and sexual health.

The report, which was based on a survey by the Terrance Higgins Trust, revealed insightful stats:

  • Half of the respondents aged 16-24 rated the SRE they had received as ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’.
  • 10% of respondents rated it ‘excellent’ and 2% rated it ‘good’.
  • 5% of young people who said they received SRE were taught about LGBT sex and relationships, while 97% believed it should be LGBT-inclusive.
  • Approximately 97% of those who said they received SRE did not recall gender identity being taught and 89% were not taught about sex and pleasure.
  • 61% said they received SRE just once a year or less.
  • 32% of respondents did not remember receiving any information on HIV in schools, while 27% said they did not receive any information on HIV.
  • 99% of young people surveyed thought SRE should be mandatory in schools.

Ian Green, the chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “In this report, we’ve seen the stark reality of SRE in this country and heard saddening stories of how one generation of young people has been exposed to low self-esteem, homophobia, bullying, unhealthy relationships and poor sexual health as a result of the lack of quality SRE in our schools.

“The government’s quiet blocking of compulsory SRE will condemn another generation of young people to leave school armed with little to no information on issues like LGBT relationships, gender identity and consent.”

According to Russell Hobby, the leader of the head teachers’ union the NAHT, the current situation leaves educators open to attack because the government is refusing to make teaching PSHE in school a statutory requirement.
As this article in the BBC reports, Mr Hobby warned the government: “We don’t need you to make PSHE statutory to make teachers do it, but to protect teachers when they do, because otherwise they are vulnerable to accusations that they are pursuing a personal agenda.”

‘We’ve seen really difficult situations where parents who disagree with the philosophies that are being promoted are saying, “You’re doing this, you’re brainwashing our children.”
‘It’s really helpful for professionals on the ground to be able to say, “No, this is a duty, it’s government regulation, and I am doing this as every school in the country is.”
‘By not making [it] statutory, the government is making teachers absorb the controversy when it really should be the government that’s strong enough to absorb that.’

On discussing topics such as homosexuality, Mr Hobby explained that this is an area where parents might not see eye-to eye with teachers.

“These are controversial topics which our society doesn’t wholly agree on, and teachers have to be quite brave sometimes in tackling them. We should have their backs when they do that and not leave them alone to deal with challenges.”

He added that parents may want to withdraw children from lessons or could make “aggressive challenges” against teachers.

What’s your take on the issue? Do you think that the current SRE and PSHE curriculum adequately prepares children and young adults? Does it provide them with useful and accurate information about sex and sexual health? To join the conversation about safeguarding children, follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.


Think Before You Call ‘Game Over’ To Children Playing Video Games

video games
Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

As a parent or caregiver, your primary concern is keeping children safe, out of harm’s way and making sure they develop into healthy well-balanced individuals. So, it’s no surprise that images of men with guns and virtual cities being blown up trouble you and make you question your child’s choice of entertainment. Video games are an easy way to keep children occupied for a few hours so you can have some time to catch up on chores or reply to emails. But, many parents worry about the potential negative impacts of video gaming. The research varies and does not always provide much conclusive evidence, however, this article by BBC gives some interesting insights and much needed clarity on the issue.

“In a research environment that is often polarised between those who believe games have an extremely beneficial role and those who link them to violent acts, this research could provide a new, more nuanced standpoint. – Experimental psychologist Dr Andrew Przybylski

The study conducted by Oxford University reports that playing violent video games for long periods of time can distort adolescents’ sense of ‘right and wrong’. However, many people would argue that a moral compass is a social construct and what is morally correct in one culture may not necessarily reflect the norm elsewhere.

The study also found that empathy, trust and concern for others, which should develop as teenagers grow up, were delayed in youngsters who were over-exposed to violent video games. This points to the fact that beyond developing a sense of right and wrong, excessive video gaming affects children on a developmental level.

On the other hand, the study also suggests that limited playing of video games may actually boost children’s learning, health and social skills. Researchers asked children how much time they spent gaming on a typical school day – either using consoles or computers. Subsequently, they rated a number of factors, ranging from satisfaction with their lives to hyperactivity and inattention. The results suggest that youngsters who played video games under an hour each day were satisfied with their lives and showed the highest levels of positive social interactions. The group also had fewer problems with emotional issues and lower levels of hyperactivity.

Additionally, this research found that children who spent more than three hours playing games were the least well adjusted.

Some potential benefits….

Problem solving and logic

Video games that are interactive and involve making quick decisions help improve problem-solving skills. If you have observed young people playing video games, you would agree that the challenges of the games bring about an alertness in them. These challenges provide an opportunity for sharpening their quick-thinking skills and the ability to adapt to any circumstance. Some games require decision making skills in order to conquer challenges, which may enhance player’s logic and reasoning skills.

Hand-eye coordination, motor and spatial skills

Most video games require a great deal of eye-hand coordination and visual spatial ability to be successful. Especially shooting games, which require the real-world player to keep track of the position of the character – where he/she is moving, his speed, where the gun is aiming, and so on.

Multitasking ability

As playing a video game also involves tracking real-time movements of many shifting variables and managing multiple objectives, it helps boost the cognitive function, and, in particular, multitasking ability in young players.

Negative effects of video games

Aggressive behaviour

 The effect of video games in children are more likely to be aggressive, particularly those who favour violent ‘shoote-em-up’ games, as reported in this article. Additionally, a review of almost a decade of studies (in the same article) found that exposure to violent videogames was a risk factor for increased aggression.

Socially isolated

Too much video gaming makes your child socially isolated, as he/she may spend less time on other activities such as doing homework, reading, sports and interacting with family and friends.

Poor performance in academics

The time spent playing video games can affect academic performance negatively, as many players routinely skip homework to play games.

Safeguarding your children online

Parentzone has listed some tips on helping your child play safe:

  • You can allow your children to play for about an hour a day, which is the ideal amount of time to spend on gaming. Also, it’s best to intervene if your child’s gaming interferes with his/her homework, offline friendships or sleep.
  • Most of the games need to be purchased online, you can thus use parental controls to disable or require permission for purchases.
  • Inform your children about the dangers of downloading suspicious files that could lead to contact with strangers online.
  • Ensure that you speak to your child if they look worried after playing a game online. Do not ban games immediately if they come to you with a concern, as this can feel like a punishment and discourage them to ask for your help.

Video games can enhance your child’s overall development or hamper it, depending on how much time they spend playing. But, if you’re afraid that your child might be getting addicted or gaming is having a negative impact, then it’s time to set limits around video game use. To know more about e-Safety and other topics related to safeguarding children online, follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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