Nearly two thirds of parents say their child is insecure about some aspect of their appearance and one in five say their teens avoid scenarios like being in photos because they’re too self-conscious of their image, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at University of Michigan Health.

“Children begin forming opinions about their bodies and looks at a very young age,” said Mott Poll co-director Susan Woolford, a child obesity expert and paediatrician at University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.

“These findings reinforce research that as kids receive unhealthy messages about societal ideals, it can lead to a poor self-image of themselves. Left unchecked, a pre-occupation with appearance and body dissatisfaction may lead to decreased mental health and emotional wellbeing and increase risks for eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem.”

The report is based on responses from 1,653 parents with at least one child ages 8-18. Weight, skin conditions like acne and hair were the most common causes of insecurities while fewer parents listed height and facial features. Nearly one in five parents of girls also said their child was self-conscious about their breasts.

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Media portrayals

Parents of teens are also more likely than parents of younger children ages 8-12 to report their child is insecure about their appearance (73% of teen girls and 69% of teen boys compared to 57% of younger girls and 49% of younger boys.)

Woolford said: “As kids get older, they become more self-aware, are more likely to compare themselves to peers and may be more influenced by media portrayals about beauty and the most desirable body shape, face and look.

“It’s developmentally normal for adolescents and teens to experience some insecurities, but if it’s interfering with their ability to enjoy social interactions or other activities, they may need help.”

Nearly a third of parents say they notice their child making negative comments about their appearance. Among parents who say that their child is self-conscious about their looks, nearly one in three feel it has a negative impact on their child’s self-esteem while one in five says it affects their child’s willingness to participate in certain activities.

Other parents, mostly those of teens, also say their child avoids being in photos, tries to hide their appearance with clothing or restricts what they eat because of insecurities.

Self-conscious about image

Sometimes, negative self-thoughts are also reinforced by others, the poll found. One in three parents say their child has been treated unkindly because of their appearance most often by other children, strangers, or other family members. Parents’ most common response is to talk with their child about the incident. Less often, they keep their child away from the person making hurtful statements or speak to the person who made the comments.

Overall, parents polled felt that in-person interactions have a greater impact than social media on their child’s view of themselves. However, parents who describe their child as self-conscious about their image are twice as likely to say their child is more affected by social media.

Woolford added: “Parents can teach their children to be media literate and savvy, so they understand that these portrayals of the perfect body, face and look in advertisements, media and even from their own friends doesn’t reflect reality.

“By laying a strong foundation of healthy attitudes, parents can help their children develop a positive body image through youth and adulthood.”

Image: Weight, skin conditions like acne and hair were the most common causes of insecurities in kids and teens.

Credit: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at University of Michigan Health