SAN FRANCISCO, CA — Common Sense Media today announced the release of Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, a research brief that offers a unique, big-picture perspective on the role of traditional and digital media in the development of children and teens' body image. The report examines existing research to help families better understand media's influence on how kids and teens think, feel, and act about their bodies and appearance and reveals new insights into how early kids' perceptions of body image start to form. It also highlights gaps in research and offers suggestions for new areas of study.
"Kids and teens today are growing up in a world of 24/7 access and exposure to idealized, stereotypical, and often age-inappropriate images of how they're supposed to look," said Jim Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense Media. "Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image reveals the importance of positive body image for kids' healthy development and the influential power of media to shape attitudes and behaviors, beginning when kids are very young. The report also shows that parents are in a unique position to help their kids counteract negative messages by encouraging them to use media positively, creatively, and responsibly."
Body dissatisfaction and unhealthy behaviors associated with it are still widely prevalent, while societal appearance ideals have become increasingly unrealistic. There is an established field of research examining how young people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward their body images are linked to portrayals in mainstream media (movies, television, magazines, advertisements, and music videos). Less studied is what role newer interactive digital media play in the development of body image. The proliferation of digital and social media means that children can easily access, create, interact with, and share peer-to-peer media messages about their appearances. While it is not clear whether new media is responsible for an increase in body dissatisfaction, the research brief highlights the need to address how ideas about physical appearance and self are being formed in the digital age.
There's also been less attention paid to the role of media in body-image development among really young children. Body-image concerns start earlier than people think; even preschoolers learn that society judges people by how they look. Research shows that, when given an option, nearly a third of children age 5 to 6 choose an ideal body size that is thinner than their current perceived size (Hayes & Tantleff-Dunn, 2010).
"Body image is integral to children's and teens' growing sense of themselves and their place in the world around them, with crucial impact on their well-being," said Dr. Seeta Pai, author of the study and head of research at Common Sense Media. "Our brief analyzes dozens of research studies on body image to identify what's known about the links between media and body image and what we still need to learn more about. The bottom line is that we don't know enough about how these highly interactive, social forms of media are changing the way young people develop their sense of self. More longitudinal methods are needed, and research must include the voices of children, teens, and families, as well as populations that are underrepresented: boys, young children, communities of color, and LGBTQ youth."
For this report, Common Sense Media conducted a review of the published research literature on body image in relation to various types of media, among children and teens, primarily in the United States. We also included relevant research among young adults and related topics such as gender roles and sexualization. We scanned popular culture for trends on this topic and developed case studies or examples as pointers for intervention. For more details on methods, studies reviewed, and key findings, see the full report at www.commonsensemedia.org/research/children-teens-media-and-body-image.
A video overview of the findings is available here and an infographic is available here. For all resources, age-based recommendations, and tips designed for parents to help their kids develop a healthy body image, go to https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sex-gender-and-body-image.
This research was supported by a generous grant from Google Inc. Common Sense Media is solely responsible for all opinions and analysis presented in the report.
About Common Sense Media
Common Sense Media is the nation's leading nonprofit organization dedicated to helping families and educators thrive in a world of media and technology. We rate, educate, and advocate on behalf of kids, families, and schools. Common Sense Media offers the world's largest and most trusted library of age-based ratings and reviews of all types of content targeted at kids, and our research-based curriculum and tools are used in over 80,000 U.S. schools. For more information, go to www.commonsense.org.