These are complicated times for our kids. Powerful forces such as pop-culture, peer pressure, and digital media dictate how they view themselves, yet their increasingly sedentary lifestyles can run counter to these standards. In such an environment, concerns over body image can increase a child's risk for eating disorders. Now that it's summer, body image concerns may be strong among teens. With our children under constant assault, it is essential for parents to teach them about good nutrition and nurture a healthy attitude about food and body image. 

An eating disorder is an illness that leads to serious disturbances in a person's normal healthy eating pattern, often in an effort to maintain a certain body weight. Common eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder. In this country, up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder, and they have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

As a parent, I feel it is important that our kids get enough to eat, but I also want them to maintain a healthy body weight while not viewing food as the enemy. Though this is a difficult balancing act, it is essential that we as parents take an active role in this process for health and welfare of our children.

Here are 10 steps to help us along the way.

1. Talk and listen.

Kids need a support network other than their friends. A good relationship with your kids reminds them that you are there to talk and listen. Listen for signs of food anxiety, and dispense good advice when it is needed.

2. Don't make food the enemy.

There are tactful ways to send a healthy message about food. Serve reasonable portions and choose healthy foods. Serve your kids sensible meals and avoid excessive junk food rather than making them neurotic about food.

3. Build their self-esteem.

It's difficult (if not impossible) to ignore peer pressure, but kids who feel good about themselves are less prone to bad influences. Encourage pursuits that build self-esteem and avoid messages about body image and sexuality.

4. Feed them a healthy diet.

Choosing wholesome natural foods while reducing processed junk food are ways to reduce the risk for obesity, which will in turn encourage a healthy relationship with food and eating.

5. Drink more water.

Sweetened drinks are a significant source of empty calories and will increase a kid's caloric intake at a meal while contributing little in terms of nutrition. Soft drinks should not replace healthy foods at a meal.

6. Discuss popular media.

Every parent knows what sort of body image messages are in popular media, so keep tabs on what your kids are watching, and talk to them about what you think is appropriate. Remind them it's just TV, not reality.

7. Make sure they are active.

Exercise is not only good for our kid's physiological and mental health, but it will help them to maintain a healthy body weight. Sports in particular are a good way to build self-esteem and make friends with similar interests.

8. Reduce their screen time.

It seems like you can't watch TV or go online and not be exposed to some unhealthy message about how you should look. The less exposure kids have to this, the less they will view it as an inspiration for their own lives.

9. Be a parent, not a friend.

As a parent, you need to play a big role in their diets and the image they wish to project. This may clash with peer expectation or what they see on TV, but being a parent is not about being popular, it's about making healthy choices.

10. Lead by example.

Parents who obsess over their weight and appearance send that message to their kids. Lead by living a healthy life and having a healthy relationship with food. Be active and eat a balanced diet.

If you have questions or concerns, speak with your pediatrician or seek out professional advice. For more information, visit the website for the National Eating Disorders Association.