I think that the most important attribute you can instill in your child is a positive self-image, and a positive attitude towards others. Today children are bombarded with images about who they are suppose to be, and children are responding en masse, especially girls. Since I have girls, and girls are more likely to have self-esteem issues, I'm going to focus on them.
Let's look at a few facts:
- 53% of American girls are "unhappy with their bodies." This grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen (Brumberg, 1997). http://www.mediafamily.org/facts/facts_mediaeffect.shtml
- Over 90% of patients with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa are women. http://www.about-face.org/r/facts/bi.shtml
- A majority of girls (59 percent) report dissatisfaction with their body shape, and 66 percent express the desire to lose weight. The prevalence of overweight girls is 29 percent. http://www.aap.org/advocacy/hogan599.htm
- At 5’9” tall and weighing 110 lbs, Barbie would have a BMI of 16.24 and
fit the weight criteria for anorexia. She likely would not menstruate. http://shamansdance.com/get_real_barbie-fact_sheet.pdf
- Three minutes spent looking at models in a fashion magazine causes 70% of women to feel depressed, guilty, and shameful. http://www.taft.cc.ca.us/newtc/StudentServices/health/women_issues.htm
Finally, let's look at a video that details the steps a model goes through to get her face on an advertisement. The real sad part about this video is that the model is actually quite attractive and represent a healthy image of a woman. What she is made up to be is no more real or realistic than the clone troopers in Star Wars (which where all CGI btw.)
Children come into this world knowing virtually nothing. They will believe anything you tell them. When we bombard our children with images of people that are so fake they can't even find real people that look like them, and have to be made up digitally, then our children will believe that image. When our further images show that only the best of the good looking are liked and valued, then we have created a real problem.
I'm not sure this is the best
way to fight anorexia.
The common fix for this problem is to throw money at helping our children reach these unattainable, and unhealthy images. There is a temptation to believe we must buy our children this and that so that they can fit into a mold that has been dictated by corporation with the purpose of maximizing profits, not maximizing mental health and self esteem.
I think the best solution is to subject your children to these images for the purpose of discussing reality versus pretend. SpongeBob isn't real, dragons aren't real, and the models in advertising aren't real. Also, let your child know that you are not going to spend fifty dollars on a named-brand shirt, when it is not affordable, and other perfectly "socially acceptable" shirts, and other clothes, are available at a perfectly reasonable price. There is a chance that this may bring your child social grief in school when they do not fit in with popular kids. But let's face it, do you really want your children hanging out with children at school who only allow people in their group based off of such superficial standards? I definitely do not. What will more than likely happen is your child will move on to real friends with real personalities and values.
I'm not exactly sure what the most effective way is to overcome this problem. You can only shield your child from so much, and if you shield to much that may be a problem within itself.
What I try to do is to instill a sense of self worth into my children. I am constantly reminding them that they are both beautiful and wonderful and that I love them very much. I offer them praise whenever the get something right, and support when they are having trouble with something, reassuring them that they can do it if they continue trying. I also let them know that when it comes to liking things, it is better to choose what you like, not what others think you should like.
It is my hope that when they become teenagers they will have the self confidence to be the person they are, and resist pressures to be something they would prefer not to be.