You’re scrolling through instagram and you see countless photos and videos of women in amazing shape and with what look like perfect bodies. You scroll past, stop at a few funny memes and keep scrolling without giving it another thought. 

Your teens, however, are also scrolling through these images. Maybe they’re stopping there a little longer. Maybe they’re focusing on the thin physique of the model or artist they are following. Maybe they’re spending a little extra time in front of the mirror looking at their bodies from all angles. 

It’s subtle, but these “messages” of what we are supposed to look like are placed into our minds with our own little “mental interpretations” of what we begin thinking of ourselves. 

When kids are toddlers, they aren’t aware of what their bodies look like, in fact, they could care less! How great is that!! They run around enjoying their bodies, having fun and have yet to develop that social critic they will inevitably be exposed to!

Maybe you’ve heard parents make comments like my “chubby” son or my “big-boned” daughter. As children grow they begin gathering up descriptions of themselves. They are almost filling up their sack that defines who they think they are. This sack can be light and airy or it can become heavy and begin to drag them down. 

If you ask a child to describe their body, they speak of it as if it was true. They will tell you who they think they are, but in reality how they describe themselves are usually collections of thoughts of what OTHERS think of them. 

Allowing other people to define you is not only dangerous but it can leave lasting scars. These scars can later in life lead to depression, eating disorders, over-eating, anxiety and body-dysmorphism. It really is that important. These early years of childhood and early-teen years are when kids are trying to figure out who they are, what they’re good at, and also what OTHERS have told them they are. 

These people that are deciding who you are may be people like family that you see often, a teacher, a coach, or maybe even a friend or camp counselor. It really can be anyone! Sometimes even people that pass through our lives for a weekend and make a comment about us can leave a lasting impression. It’s so crazy how the words that someone says to you, especially as a child, can become the words you continue to tell yourself well into adulthood. 

It’s time we begin to recognize these “opinions” for what they are….OPINIONS. You, on the other hand, have the chance to decide for yourself if you want those opinions to become part of who you are. As parents we need to recognize this in our own words and the words your child speaks when describing themselves. Helping them to pick and choose words that are uplifting and motivating can make a big difference in their risk of developing mental illness later in life. 

So, today I ask that you pay attention. Pay attention to the words you speak and the words your child uses to describe him or herself. Ask them questions about why they think that. Ask them if that’s what they really believe about themselves or if it was something someone else told them. Ask them if those words came from someone they admire and love or from a person they don’t even really like. Giving a child control over what they allow to become these lasting thoughts in their heads is the beginning of giving them the tools to decide who they want to be in the future. 

Don’t allow others to determine the limits you set for yourself. Grow up with the knowledge that you are free to adjust your limits and change as life changes. More importantly, you don’t need permission from anyone else to decide who you are or who you want to be. 

Have a wonderful week!

Stay Happy and Healthy

Elizabeth Vainder, M.D. 

**If your child has any of the following behaviors, please speak to your physician about the possibility of an eating disorder. Remember having some of these behaviors does not mean your child has an eating disorder, but it may be a great time to approach the conversation with your child and/or physician. Awareness is always the beginning to change. 

Anorexia: 

  • Weigh 15% less than ideal weight for them
  • Fear of being “fat” or denial of low weight
  • Problems with body image. They don’t see how thin they are
  • Menstrual periods stop
  • Depression and lethargy
  • Hair and nails become brittle
  • Person feels cold all of the time

Bulemia: 

  • Always dieting and/or exercising
  • Can be underweight, overweight, normal weight or obese
  • Binge eating – Usually foods high in sugars and carbohydrates. These episodes can happen several times a week or even several times a day. Then are followed with fear of gaining weight and then vomiting or using laxatives to try to rid their bodies of extra calories. 
  • Chronically inflamed sore throat
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Tooth enamel is eroded
  • Salivary glands are swollen – develop a “chipmunk appearance” (swollen cheeks)

Body Dysmorphic Disorder:

  • Obsessions about their appearance. Can happen for hours a day or even all day
  • Comparing body parts to others appearance
  • Camouflaging with body position, make up, hats etc to hide “imperfection”
  • Checking in mirror
  • Avoiding mirrors
  • Seeking surgery
  • Excessive grooming
  • Excessive exercise 
  • Changing clothes excessively
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