Why your child’s friends may not always be good for them – and how to help

Sad boy hiding his face

Teens want to fit in. That’s nothing new: young people have always formed tribes with their own ways of dressing and looking. It’s natural to want to identify with your friends at a time when you’re beginning to ease away from your family.
 
But the pressure to conform to ideals of body shape and beauty can become overwhelming – especially these days when friends can comment on your child’s appearance on social media day and night, and there are ‘likes’ for looking a certain way. Girls have to be thin, but not too thin, with breasts and bottoms. Boys have to be slim but muscular. And everyone has to be fashionable… these are impossible ideals for almost anyone, but especially for young people whose bodies and faces are changing. 

It can be difficult to stand against this peer pressure. The Dove Self Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me Parent Guide has lots of ideas, which you can download for free, for how to help your child be themselves and not feel bullied by other people’s ideas about how they should look.
 
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, has talked about the ‘enormous pressure to behave and look a certain way,’ which many experts believe is damaging children’s lives and threatening mental health problems. A UK government study found that the most common form of bullying experienced by students today relates to appearance. And one study of female students, published by the Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that a massive 93% of young women bonded over talk of how their bodies disappointed them. The one-third who did this most regularly were also most likely to be dissatisfied with their weight, regardless of how heavy they were.
 
What can you do to stop this unrelenting focus on appearance feeling like a form of bullying? Start by downloading the Dove Self Esteem Project’s Uniquely Me Parent Guide. Chapter 5 has tips to help identify when there’s a problem and respond. Encourage your child to feel good about themselves in ways that have nothing to do with appearance. Compliment them on their character, strength and qualities. Make sure they know you love them for who they are, not how they look.
 
You could also try out these ideas:

  • Encourage your child to talk about people they love and admire who aren’t conventional sizes, or who don’t have standardised good looks.
  • Champion uniqueness, difference, specialness. Make a point of noticing people who are achieving things that don’t depend on their looks.
  • Be positive about what bodies can do. If your child complains about their appearance, get them to talk about all the things their body enables them to do (run, dance, experience pleasure, digest food, communicate, rest…)
  • All types of comments – not just about appearance – can have an effect on self-esteem. Mention positive things about them that have nothing to do with their looks.
  • Your own attitude can make an enormous difference. Don’t say you’re feeling fat if you’re feeling depressed. Be relaxed about your own body and celebrate its survival. Don’t criticise others on the basis of how they look.

(For teachers and professionals, the Dove Self-Esteem Project also offers a series of workshops and resources with practical activities to help boost children’s self-esteem. Download them for free here.)

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‘Uniquely me’ is packed with advice and practical activities for parents to help nurture their children's body confidence and self-esteem It 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.
Download your free ‘Uniquely Me’ parent guide

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