Mar 9, 2015, 5:44:54 PM CDT Mar 17, 2023, 8:02:44 PM CDT

3 tips to help boost your child's body image in the digital age

Photo apps can be fun, but they can also make unrealistic appearances the norm on social media. See ways to promote positive self-image

Three young girls taking a selfie together Three young girls taking a selfie together

Photo editing and airbrushing are not new technologies – but today's popular apps mean that altered images are no longer reserved for magazine spreads; they are now the norm in your child's social media feed.

Often, smartphone filters are simply a form of entertainment. However, the rise in edited images can affect an adolescent's self-esteem. Some plastic surgeons report that app filters are even influencing the type of cosmetic surgery requests they receive, and a recent article warns that filtered and touched up images can lead to a mental health condition called body dysmorphic disorder.

How body image is tied to self-esteem

Body image consists of a person's thoughts, feelings and perceptions about their physical appearance. Although a person's mental representation of their body is internal, it can be influenced by many external factors, including media and cultural standards of attractiveness, as well as appearance-related feedback from others. Body image plays a role in self-esteem through how positively or negatively a person thinks and feels about their appearance, as well as how important they believe their appearance is.

For individuals with distorted body image, their mental representation of themselves can be significantly different from the way others actually perceive their appearance. Research on gender differences with regard to body image indicates that although women report more frequent experiences of body dissatisfaction, men place more importance on their physical appearance, particularly during adolescence.

3 quick tips to help boost body image

There are a number of ways parents can help promote positive self-image for their child. Here are three tips from Celia Heppner, Psy.D., clinical psychologist in the Fogelson Plastic and Craniofacial Surgery Center at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern.

  1. Provide some context for the photos your child sees of friends and celebrities online by reminding them that what others are posting online is what they want to portray, with negative attributes or experiences filtered out.
  2. Model healthy body image. Be mindful about the messages that you send your child about your ideas about your own appearance, as this will shape how they think about their appearance to a large degree.
  3. Encourage children and teens to focus on what they do, not on how they look. Support their participation in an activity that will provide them with a sense of accomplishment that is not appearance-based. Activities like sports, art and playing a musical instrument can help kids focus more on behaviors and interests than on physical appearance as a source of self-worth.

Learn more

See more tips for parenting in an age of selfies. If you have questions or are concerned about your child, contact a professional. Children's Health psychologists and psychiatrists can help children and teens manage feelings of depression and anxiety. Learn more about programs we offer to support mental, emotional and behavioral health.

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