Bullying at home: when family banter goes too far

Family banter bullying

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Parent Info has partnered with the Dove Self-Esteem Project to offer parents advice and information to help children and young people build confidence and feel good about themselves.

In the second part of our series on bullying, we look at how family ‘banter’ can sometimes affect young people’s self-esteem. You can read part 1, Bullying Outside the Home, here.

 

‘Soon you’ll be bigger than your mum!’

Jokes and teasing are common in most close family relationships, but when they hit a nerve they can cause low self-esteem.

As your child becomes a teenager they will naturally become more sensitive to comments about the way they look. And family members may not realise the impact of their words.

‘Hasn’t so-and-so filled out?’

‘Soon you’ll be bigger than your mum!’

‘Don’t you think you should start watching what you eat?’

Sound familiar? Even playful teasing from loved ones about appearance can have a deep impact, damaging young people's confidence long term.

‘Young people who experience criticism or teasing about their appearance from family members are more likely to try to control their weight and eat in an unhealthy way, be dissatisfied with their body, compare themselves with friends, obsess over their looks, have lower self-esteem and more depression than those who aren’t teased,’ says Dr Phillippa Diedrichs of the Centre for Appearance Research.

On the flipside, supportive and warm family dynamics have a positive effect on young people's body image and body satisfaction.

What you can do

  • Develop coping strategies for your child to use when faced with family teasing. It may be as simple as ignoring unhelpful comments, or something more overt like confronting the person making the remarks to let them know how it feels when they tease.
  • By acknowledging the hurtfulness of appearance-related teasing, actively discouraging it and helping your child develop techniques to deal with it, you will be nurturing and protecting their positive body confidence.
  • Be alert at family gatherings and conscious of any comments or conversations about weight, body shape, dieting or appearance that are negative or might make your child feel embarrassed or self-conscious.
  • Try to steer the conversation elsewhere without making a fuss – you can approach individuals later if necessary. And check in with your child to let them know that those types of comments are not OK, that they are perfect just the way they are, and that you are there if they want to talk.
  • If someone in the family is continuing to tease your child (or someone else in front of your child) about their appearance or body, consider speaking with them in private. Sometimes you will need to be subtle; other occasions may call for a more direct approach.
  • Emphasise to family members the importance of avoiding talking about looks and placing too much emphasis on appearance. You may want to ask them not to comment on your child’s body or appearance at all.

Read, download or print the free Uniquely Me parent guide

This downloadable pdf contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action. Click on 'Files: Uniquely Me parent guide.pdf' at the foot of the page to download.

Teachers: for free downloadable teaching resources, go to the Dove Self-Esteem Project area on ParentZone.org.uk

This article is brought to you by Parent Zone and the Dove Self-Esteem Project.