Nearly two-thirds of parents say their child is self-conscious about his or her appearance, according to a new national poll conducted by researchers at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor.
The poll also found that insecurities about appearance can reach out and touch many aspects of a child’s life.
Researchers at Mott interviewed nearly 1,700 mothers and fathers of children 8-18 years old, both boys and girls. The respondents hailed from across the U.S.
Nearly 75% of parents of teenage girls and 70% of teenage boys said their children worried about how they looked.
Poll director Dr. Susan Woolford, a pediatrician at Mott Children’s Hospital, told WWJ it’s not just a worry for the older children.
“Even with the young group, children 8 to 12 years of age, we found that about half of those children were concerned about some aspect of their appearance,” Woolford said.
The concern impacts girls more than boys across all age groups. For the younger children (8-12), about 6 out of 10 girls worried about how they looked compared to about half of the boys.
The parents reported that skin conditions and acne were the most common concern, followed by weight, hair, and teeth.
“Quite often, children learn to feel self-conscious about themselves because of the way parents interact around appearance, around their own appearance as adults and their child’s,” Woolford said.
One-fifth of parents say negative body image impacts their child’s willingness to participate in activities and nearly one-third say their child makes frequent negative comments about themselves.
One-third say their child has been “treated unkindly” because of their appearance, most commonly by other children. However, strangers, family members, teachers, and health care providers were also culprits.
One-fifth of parents of teenagers say their child avoids photos.
Researchers at Mott say the best course of action to help your child is to talk about self-acceptance and model behaviors that promote positive self-image. This includes refraining from making negative comments about your own appearance. You may also consider showing photos of yourself from when you were a kid, talking to your child about the times you felt insecure and how you overcame it. Discussing the normal body changes that happen during puberty may also be helpful, according to researchers.
Many parents also said they felt social media had a negative impact on their child’s body image. If your child is struggling, researchers say you may want to talk with your child about how the photos on social media are often altered to promote engagement or limit your child’s use of the platforms.
If your child wishes to change their appearance; experts say you may want to help them e.g. by choosing healthy meal options if weight is their concern or by making an appointment with a dermatologist to address acne. However, if they do not want to make a change, experts say you should “tread lightly” because encouraging them to alter their appearance may give them the impression that something is wrong with them and even worsen their body image.