What parents need to know about body image and mental health in children

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May is recognized annually as Mental Health Awareness Month. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Utah, more than 40 million people in the U.S. are living with a mental health condition. Approximately one in five Utahns experienced a mental illness in the past year. Children are also impacted by mental health illness and spectrum disorders. During this time of heightened anxiety, isolation, and depression because of the COVID-19 pandemic, kids have struggled to adapt.

How children and young people think and feel about their bodies and the way they look can affect their mental health in both a positive and negative way. Body image reflects societal values and can force youth to make judgments about their self-worth based on their looks. 

While exact estimates vary, depending on how body image is measured, many kids are more concerned and worried about their appearance, but it has gotten much worse during this period of isolation. According to Dr. Candice Smith, she has seen an increase in youth’s concerns over their body image in her clinical practice since the pandemic began.

For parents, asking kids and teens directly about their body image can validate their concerns and make them feel better about the body image struggles they may have. Even when it can be hard to hear your child make disparaging comments about their bodies, do not dismiss them 

Remember that you are the main source of information for shaping your child’s attitudes. By modeling healthy behaviors and attitudes, you can help your child evaluate the messages they get outside and inside of the home. Helping your kids form healthy eating habits early in life can teach them to pay attention to the signals their body gives them and will promote independence around food at an early age. Teach your child to trust their bodies and their needs, but also look out for changes in diet, exercise, and confidence.

If you are concerned in any way about your kid’s mental or behavioral health, visit Tanner Clinic and schedule an appointment.

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