At what age does media begin affecting my child's body image?
Body image is developed early in childhood, and even very young children can exhibit body dissatisfaction. Common Sense's report on body-image studies, Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image, found that more than half of girls and approximately one-third of boys age 6–8 indicate their ideal body weight is thinner than their current weight.
The study also found:
- By age 6, children are aware of dieting and may have tried it;
- 26 percent of 5-year-olds recommend dieting as a solution for a person who has gained weight;
- by the time kids reach age 7, one in four has engaged in some kind of dieting behavior; and,
- between 1999 and 2006, hospitalizations for eating disorders among children below the age of 12 spiked 112 percent.
Although body image is influenced by many factors, media is one of several sources. Young children engage with some of the more extreme body portrayals in media in the form of dolls and action figures. And female characters in family films, on prime-time TV, and on kids' TV shows are nearly twice as likely to have an uncharacteristically small waist as their male counterparts.
You can help guide your kid away from negative body-image media messages by actively seeking out movies, games, TV shows, and music with positive messages around physical health, as well as positive role models for self-acceptance. A few other ideas:
- Try to avoid stereotypical female and male characters in your kids' media. When you encounter them, discuss them with your kids and share your values.
- Challenge assumptions around heavyset and slim characters. Help your kids think about how different characters are portrayed and whether they foster negative ideas about weight.
- Point out characters, athletes, and celebrities who use their bodies to achieve something versus just trying to look good.