Many parents have concerns over the amount of television that their children watch. Regardless of whether or not they approve of their children watching TV, when a child spends all of their free time in front of it, time is taken away from other more productive or healthy activities, like reading a book or exercising.

Another issue that concerns parents is the type of programming that their kids are exposed to. In addition to the seemingly irresistible influence of advertising, many shows promote certain messages and values that, like it or not, can influence how a child sees themselves and the world around them. This is especially true when young girls judge their own appearance relative to the thin and beautiful celebrities they see on TV.

To Have or Have Not

In an effort to curb this influence, parents have employed various measures, from limiting the amount of time their kids spend in front of the TV, to allowing only certain types of programming.

In extreme situations, some families get rid of their television altogether. While this surely removes the negative influences of the media, it is not always an ideal solution, because let's face it, regardless of what your thoughts are on TV, it does have a lot to offer for both children and adults.

Furthermore, despite their best efforts, kids will generally find a way to get some screen time, especially if they have friends who spend a lot of time with their televisions. In fact, experts have observed that this outside influence can have a profound and sometimes detrimental affect on how a child views themselves, and can even influence the onset of eating disorders.

Secondhand Television

We've all heard the news about the dangers of secondhand smoke, and how important it is for parents to limit their child's exposure to it, but how many of us have heard of secondhand television?

Researchers at Harvard have coined this expression to refer to the television exposure that kids experience outside of their parent's oversight and in the homes of friends and acquaintances. According to their findings, having a television in their own homes did not appear to increase their risk of developing eating disorders. Instead, the biggest influencing factor was the number of friends and acquaintances who watched TV, more so than direct exposure in the form of watching at home or with parents.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, is the first to actually try to measure the impact of social networks in promoting the influence of media on eating disorders. The authors of the study went so far as to say that social interactions were not simply a minor player, but rather the major influencing factor in the onset of eating disorders.

What Parents Can Do

The current findings highlight the importance for parents to not only make some effort monitor what kids are watching, but to address the root of the problem, which is how impressionable kids are and how easily their image of themselves can be manipulated.

The ideal solution, as indicated by the researchers, would be for entertainment companies and advertisers to be more responsible about what sort of messages they are sending to our kids. However, in the interest of their bottom line — which is to make money — that is probably not going to happen any time soon.

Furthermore, as parents, we cannot be there all the time to oversee what our kids are doing. At some point, they need to have the wherewithal to make the right decisions in our absence.

With this in mind, parents might want to consider the following:

  1. Communicate with your kids. While this sounds simple, it is easy enough to get caught up in the hectic schedules that many of us lead, and it is ultimately the time with our kids that suffers. So take time out of your day to let your kids know you love them just the way they are.
     
  2. Promote independence and self-awareness. This may be the hardest thing to do because peer influence is so strong. However, if you start early enough and teach kids to be comfortable in their own skin, it could go a long way to tempering some of the unhealthy and unrealistic imagery in the media.
     
  3. Encourage activities that build self-esteem. Experience is the best teacher, especially when it comes to building confidence in a child. Find out what your kids excel at and work hard to include these activities in your child's schedule.
     
  4. Take the time to figure out what really inspires them. Regardless of what the outside world throws at them, when a child is free to pursue their passion, it encourages them to persevere, adapt, and overcome obstacles, all of which help to instill confidence and self-esteem.
     
  5. Communicate with other parents. Take the time to know who your kids are associating with. If the situation is not ideal, try to make it better rather than forbidding their interaction. Talking with other parents and reaching a compromise will help maintain the friendship.
     
  6. Let your kids know you are always there for them. I realize that for some of us, this is easier said than done, but when you really get down to it, it doesn't take a huge amount of time and effort to strengthen your relationship with your kids. Sometimes something as simple as a phone call or a few minutes together will speak volumes to your child.

It's a rough world out there for parents, but even more so for a growing child who, in the process of discovering who they are, must also negotiate the rough waters or parental and peer relationships. So make time to be an important influence in your child's life, and don't let television accomplish what is one of the most important job of any parent.

If you have questions or concerns, speak with your pediatrician or school guidance counselor. For more information about children and body image, visit the website for WebMd.

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