Looking good is the last thing your child should be worried about

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Body image issues have started hounding children at a very young age. Worrying about looking good should not be the priority of children.

I was having lunch at a friend's place. He has a son who would turn 11 this August. The food was fabulous, and so, I was not paying much attention to the conversations around me. However, I could see his son from the corner of my eye, pecking at a piece of chicken. He had just returned from his soccer practice and I am sure he was famished. The chicken was also alright. So I was wondering why was he not eating properly.

I went near him and started a conversation. A minute into it, he told me that he was hungry, but was worried that his BMI might increase. It felt like a slap by an ice cold sock when I was not expecting it! Why would an 11-year-old athlete worry about something like BMI? He was active, eating right, and yet, he was worried about eating good, nutritious food.

Body image or illusion?

There are countless young children like him, worrying about looking right. I don't know why. Maybe things were simpler when I was younger. I would eat to my heart's content and then play outside the whole evening. I was not worried about getting fat or looking fat, or even looking out of shape. Why then, are these children, not even teenagers, concerned with the way they look?

Is it because they are more aware? Is it because they see the parents trying out different diets to get back in shape? Or is it because of the early sexualisation of the youth in movies today? Maybe it is a combination of all the three.

Don't get me wrong. There is no glory in putting on extra pounds, nor is there anything wrong in being fit. The problem arises when growing children ignore a balanced diet and start exercising the way adults should. The incessant obsession with selfies and Instagram does not help either.

Body image used to be a cause of concern for parents of 18-year-olds. Now it hounds the parents whose children have not even reached puberty.

How to change the mindset

As the child enters his teen years, he tends to listen less to what the parents are saying and relies more on the information he gets from his peers. This 'phase shift' is one of the reasons why parents find it so difficult to get through to their children. Even the most well-behaved kids have their quirks at this age.

The most important thing is to understand that your child is no longer a child. He is a young adult now. And as an adult, he is not going to accept anything because 'you say so'. And nor should he. The trick is to appeal to his rational or emotional side, or at times, both. Here are 3 things that would help you do that.

1# Involve an expert

Young adults are more likely to listen to an expert, like a doctor, or even an elder cousin who is a dietician, than you. So use this to your advantage. You have to be careful not to be too pushy, though. In this age group, you have to handle situations like you would handle a raw egg or an unexploded dynamite - with tender care.

A good point to bring in the discussion would be the impact of BMI on fitness. Let them understand that BMI is not the measure of fitness. It is important for a growing body to concentrate instead on having a balanced diet and a healthy amount of exercise.

2# Discourage any kind of diet regimes for weight loss

A balanced diet is the key to a healthy body

Shun the GMs, the Paleos, and any other kind of diet regimes yourself. You are setting an example through your actions that would have a long-lasting impact. So be wise about the path you choose to get fit yourself. I cannot stress enough on a balanced diet. Your body needs carbohydrates, so don't omit them from your diet. Pack some healthy lunch for your child and teach him to spot the nutrients instead of encouraging him to count calories.

That said, there are some foods that are not meant to be consumed daily. Colas and fried food are best reserved for a blue moon day. Do not withhold anything, but teach your child to have a balanced diet.

3# Monitor his sources of information

The Internet has a lot of information that may be totally untrue. Most of the sites are not monitored by the government and thus celebrities get away with their support of wild theories and fascinations. Teach your child this simple mantra -"Take advice from a person about his profession, not beyond it". So take notes from an actor on the theatre, but when he starts teaching about food or weight loss, teach your child to ignore it.

Body image is not something that should bother children. Let them enjoy the phase. There is no escaping insecurities later on in life.

Also read: Do fitness trackers really help you get fit?

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