When Chandni Nair’s (name changed) five-year-old daughter suddenly started throwing tantrums when it came to finishing her meals, she thought it was a passing phase. “I assumed that it would soon pass because she had never been a fussy eater. But suddenly she would refuse to eat certain foods or finish her meals. Cajoling didn’t help and it was only after we made her realise that it would affect her health that she opened up and said that she didn’t want to eat because she was afraid of becoming fat! We were aghast and asked her why she thought like that. Turns out her classmates were making fun of one overweight girl in school and she was petrified that she would be their target next. These are five-year-old kids we are talking about — it is shocking that their little minds can work this way. We had to counsel our daughter for a long time and while she has resumed her eating habits, we worry that this might get repeated in the future.”
The impact of advertisements, films and TV shows
This is far from being an isolated case. A recent study revealed that children as young as three worry about being fat or ugly. Is this an impact of advertisements, social media or films? Clinical psychologist Seema Hingorrany says, “Children get heavily influenced by ads, films and TV shows. Most actors are their role models and they want to live life like them, talk and look like them. Many children are hooked to TV shows, which forms a thinking pattern and they assume that life should be like a TV serial.”
Adds life coach, creative movement dance and activity specialist and dance therapist Hashmin Currimbhoy, “On an average, children watch two hours of television daily. A child’s brain development is most crucial in the first two years. Some parents watch their own TV shows with their infants and toddlers around, many may not realise that the child is receptive and picks up the smallest of things and content, which may not be appropriate. Advertisements on TV — about beauty products that promise to transform you, how fair skin can change your life, how weight loss tablets make you feel good and so on — can have a huge impact on a young mind. It is common for parents and caregivers to use TV as a substitute babysitter. Most TV shows provide no educational benefits for children under the age two. Worse, they steal time for activities that actually develop the brain like interacting with other people and playing. A child learns a lot more efficiently from real interaction — with people and things, rather than things she sees on a video screen. TV viewing also takes away the time that your child needs to develop important skills like language, creativity, motor and social skills. These skills are developed in the kids’ first two years through play, exploration and conversation. Your kid’s language skills, for example, do not improve by passively listening to the TV. False notions of feelings are often displayed on shows or advertisements, leaving a false image of real life in a child’s mind.”Parents need to be extremely aware of the things that could possibly influence their child. “Pay attention to what your child is watching. While it may be difficult to do that all the time, be strict about what content the child is viewing. Monitoring activities and TV watching is important. The best method is to engage your child in communication so that there is no chance for loneliness or boredom,” explains Seema.
Earlier this year, researchers revealed the content of a survey that showed 35 per cent of under-18s being worried about being tagged in unattractive photos, while 27 per cent felt stressed about how they looked in posted images. “Younger children are also addicted to social media today and it feeds a child’s innate need for social approval and validates their self-worth through ‘likes’ and ‘comments’. Your child’s online activity is closely linked to their self-esteem. While it’s innate, self-esteem is also dangerous because it’s a constant message running through your brain. Having a selfie commented on or being liked can be a temporary morale booster for your child, but if they discover they’re not popular online, bullied or criticised, just like in the real world, they can feel like a failure and have a difficult time coping,” says Hashmin.
The role of extracurricular activities in a child’s development
“Extracurricular activities enhance a child’s learning experience as well as his/ her overall development. They also provide opportunities to acquire and practice new skills. All extracurricular activities promote social development by encouraging participants to work together and share ideas. They also encourage children in forming friendships with other children who share their interests. Social development is essential to a child’s language development, self-esteem, academic performance and conflict resolution. Emotional development is important to a child’s ability to develop relationships, be self-confident, trusting and empathetic toward others and manage adversity and stress in a healthy way,” ends Hashmin.
Finding a solution
If your child displays an unhealthy interest in being pretty, thin and an aversion to being fat or ugly, send a clear message that appearance is not important and be a good role model yourself.
Ask your child to take time out to focus on his/ her positive qualities, skills and talents.
Remind them to say positive things to themselves every day.
Help silence any negative self-talk as soon as you hear it.
Set positive, health-focused goals together rather than anything weight-loss related.
Ask them to focus on appreciating and respecting what bodies can do rather than what they look like.