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The comparison disease: Self-esteem and body image influencers

Children and teens grow and change every day. Not only do they develop a keen sense of the world, they also develop a sense of who they are and how they view themselves. One of the most important tasks of childhood, and especially adolescence, is identity development. 

As humans, we are stricken with what I often refer to as "the comparison disease." We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. This leads to both positive self-views when comparing ourselves favorably and negative self-views when comparing ourselves unfavorably. 

There are numerous reasons why children and teens develop low self-esteem, low self-confidence or poor body image. One of the most common underlying issues is comparing themselves unfavorably to others, including their parents, friends or people they see in the media. The development of social media has been especially detrimental to children's self-esteem. It taps directly into the tendency to compare one's self to an external standard. When kids scroll social media, they are most often only seeing other's best pictures, most exciting adventures, greatest accomplishments, etc., which leads to negative self-esteem for kids and teens when they reflect on how "average" or "unexciting" their lives appear in comparison.  

Parents play a major role in developing a child's sense of self-worth and self-esteem since their influence starts from day one. The direct influence of peers or media does not begin until a bit later in a child's development, though the argument can be made that the media plays a major role on impacting parents' behaviors, which in turn has an impact on a child from the beginning of life.

Here are a few tips to help foster healthy, positive body image and self-esteem in your child or teen:

Praise effort and progress. Focus on rewarding and praising effort and progress, as opposed to final results. Maybe your child isn't able to make the basketball team, but parents can point out progress on a specific skill or praise the fact he or she was brave enough to try out for the team in the first place.  

Recognize and praise resiliency. Just as you would recognize and correct unwanted or inappropriate behavior in your kids, make a point each day to notice when your child overcomes something difficult. This can be as obvious as praising their completion of a difficult homework assignment or giving them credit for admitting to a mistake. Confidence stems from feeling like we can overcome difficulty. Developing a sense of resiliency in our children is critically important.

Model healthy behavior. Parents can set a good example by openly talking about these issues with their children. Make these discussions normal and comfortable for your child early on in their life. Parents can also model positive self-esteem and self-talk. Children, especially young ones, soak up information and learn by observation at an incredible rate. Parents can have a positive impact by avoiding judgmental commentary in front of their children, whether about themselves or others. Model self-acceptance and self-compassion for your children and this will go a long way in developing a healthy self-perception as they grow into teenagers and young adults. 

Talk about it. If you suspect a problem, ask questions. Then be patient and listen without judgment. Signs of a poor body image may be subtle and can include: continually rejecting compliments, having unrealistic expectations for their self, excessively conforming to others, having low energy or becoming withdrawn or depressed.

With a little help, children and teens can have an accepting view of themselves based on self-compassion and feeling at ease with exactly who they are.


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