You’re sprawled out on the couch, one hand on the TV remote channel surfing and the other hand digging into a half-empty bag of potato chips in between swigs of cola. You tell your teenage daughter to get off Facebook and go exercise like her athletic older brother. She continues to chat on-line with friends, appearing oblivious to your request. She stuffs a handful of Doritos in her mouth and washes them down with a big gulp of a Monster energy drink. She doesn’t budge from the screen for hours.
Every day this scenario plays out in households across the country. Your words may seem to fall on deaf ears, but make no mistake: your kids are paying close attention and following your lead.
Here are a few tips for setting a good example for your children and promoting a positive body image:
- Make physical activity a part of your family’s daily routine. According to the government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents should get at least one hour of physical activity each day. Encourage your kids to find activities they love, and plan family outings such as bike riding, hiking or rollerblading.
- Limit TV, cell phones and computer time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a maximum of one to two hours of screen time each day, including TV, computers and video games. Less screen time means more time for physical activities.
- Expose the media’s tricks of the trade. Teach kids that the flawless images of models they see on the cover of magazines aren’t real, they are Photoshopped. “The lips are blown up, the coloring is enhanced, and all the fat is taken out and put into her boobs,” says Dr. Robyn Silverman, child and teen development expert and author. Look at before-and-after photos of cover models on-line with your kids, and you may be surprised by what you see.
- Avoid criticizing your body or comparing yourself to others. Don’t disparage your body or make negative comments about others. Saying, “I wish I had long, thin legs like hers” or “I shouldn’t have eaten that cheesecake” sends the message that weight and size are important. Resist the urge to compare or criticize your child’s body in any way.
- Provide a variety of healthy foods and don’t label foods as good or bad. Instead of dieting, eat balanced nutritious meals and enjoy sweets or fast food as a treat.
- Enjoy meals together. Family meals are the perfect time to enjoy conversation without the distractions of TV, cell phones or computers, but the benefits go way beyond connecting. Research studies have shown that having family meals together on a regular basis may lower children’s risk of drug abuse, depression, eating disorders, and obesity.
- Volunteer as a family. Serving others cultivates gratitude for what we have, while building self-worth and stronger relationships.
How you spend your time and what you put into your body send a powerful message to your kids. When you take care of yourself and make healthy choices, you teach your children to do the same.