Speaking to your child about weight and bullying is difficult enough without the mixed messages they see everywhere. Parents are forced to compete with the countless media messages in our culture about weight and bullying. You can counteract this by always striving to model respect.
Consider what you say to your children and what you say about others.
The messages for children are everywhere in our culture from magazines, television, and peer pressure. Girls observe the unattainable flawless beauty and body weight of models, as boys envy superheroes and skilled athletes.
When they don’t measure up to these cultural images of the ideal weight or beauty, many children and adolescents feel ashamed, sad and become depressed.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 70% of children’s movie content involves weight shaming situations. They portray characters who have a slim body as popular and attractive, whereas overweight characters are lazy, unattractive and are systematically ridiculed.
Youth targeted media exacerbates the weight stereotype, and only adds to these negative messages.
Talking to your child about their weight is a like walking a tightrope; one slip can be disastrous. The words a parent uses can communicate support and encouragement, or can make the situation worse. Words can heal or hurt.
Shame rarely motivates a child to do better, and with over one-third of US children being overweight, parents need to approach this sensitive subject in a careful way.
Try to use words that are more general and non-judgmental.
- A child who is overweight
- A person’s body mass index
- Unhealthy weight
Whereas avoid words and phrases like:
- Extremely obese
- Weight problem
A child with weight issues will experience lasting effects from feeling shamed by their own family, either parents or siblings. Being harassed and bullied at school only confirms their lack of worth.
Without positive encouragement from the people they love, a child may turn to emotional eating and self destructive behavior. Grades may drop, they may become disinterested in any physical activity, and want to avoid school altogether.
Weight shaming experiences make a child more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and low self esteem. In addition, they are two times more likely to consider suicide.
Other Ways Parents Can Help
Correct your children if you overhear them shaming anyone because of their weight or physical appearance.
Suggest they intervene when they observe bullying. Studies show that over 50% of bullying stops if a peer steps in to defend the person being bullied.
Consider what you say in front of your children.
Cyberbullying has doubled from 18% to 34% from 2007 to 2016 with up to 50% of cyberbullies remaining anonymous. Monitor your child’s computer and smartphone for indications they are being bullied. Then talk to them about how and if to respond.
Speak to teachers and guidance counselors at your child’s school about their bullying policies.
Almost 21% of children are being bullied right now, so don’t think it can’t happen to your family.
Encourage your entire family to make healthy food choices.
Talk to your pediatrician at Pediatrics 5280 about other supportive tools and methods to help your children stay a healthy weight.