Our children spend more time with media than with their own parents. It’s little wonder then that our girls want ‘be a part’ of that world. But is this natural, or or are we breeding a new generation of narcissists?

vloggerThis 5 year olds’ hair and makeup video will make every parent cringe. Aubrey, who features in the video, is mimicking the million of videos available online that offer style tips. The thing is, in this video she actually cuts her hair off! With all sincerity, Aubrey looks to camera, and armed with big, sharp scissors she cuts her fringe very, very, very short; even telling her fans that this is how you ‘get the hairs on there’. She demonstrates the same naive approach to applying makeup.

Needless to say, by the end of the video her look is drastic! One can imagine her parents’ reaction. In true hair/make video form, she is happy with her new look, nods to camera and tells us ‘Perfect!’

Aubrey’s video is representative of the increasing shift in young girls attention to their physical appearance. Instead of playing with their toys, 6 year olds that I know spend their time in school playgrounds talking about diets and ‘having style’. Is this a loss of childhood, is there even more pressure on young girls now to be sexy, to look beautiful, or is it just a change in the lives of kids that we shouldn’t be too worried about?

Body image and the mobile media game-changer

Body image develops early in childhood. This has been a standard understanding in the research for many years now. We have also known for a long time that three factors have considerable impact on how children perceive and feel about their body: their parents, media, and peers. What’s important to consider though, is that these three factors shift within themselves over time. Therefore the impact they can each have changes.

For example, we are now obsessed with thin. Being thin is an open discussion many parents regularly have at home and in social situations when children are around. The media is also obsessed with thin. This combination is going to have a big influence a young child’s perception of the ideal body size.

However, an important and distinct change for this generation of kids is that they often spend more time with media than they do with their parents. Mobile devices have a been a game changer. What was once restricted to print and TV media for children has now extended to all the time messages on the internet everywhere and anywhere they go, in the car, waiting at the doctor’s surgery, while at an cafe. This is the difference and this is having a big effect. A recent study showed that half of girls and  one-third of boys aged six to eight years want to be thinner than they actually are!

When the media comes into play in such a huge way like this, the values you want to pass down to our kids may be competing against those of Kim Kardashian or any other cover girl. And in this age of mobile devices, and for 5 year olds like Aubrey, this has been the case since they were born.

As a result, the media now has more potential than ever to have a significant influence on how children feel about their bodies and what’s important in life. This is why we see young kids wanting to upload videos online; they want to be part of this important thing in their lives.

Creating balance in a media dominated environment

We can’t dramatically change the environment our kids are growing up in. And, this current media-strong environment doesn’t necessarily mean that our kids will grow up to have unfulfilling lives. Each era in society has its challenges, from the industrial age where 7-year-olds entered the workforce, to kids growing up in the Depression or during World War 2.

What’s important is that we are aware of the social challenges we are dealing with and aim to balance out the harm they may have on our kids (and ourselves).

In this type of environment, young girls can become hypersensitive to their looks and often feel they don’t quite make the grade. They focus on perfection (or who is the closest to attaining it), which is highly likely to magnify your flaws. Self-esteem is, at the end of the day, about self-acceptance and confidence regardless of your looks and abilities. It is about feeling good about yourself just the way you are.

Help children see beyond the unrealistic ideals placed on physical beauty to the other wonderful qualities people hold. This will give a young girl more confidence than a swimsuit that hides curves, creates curves or minimizes a pudgy middle. The same goes for our boys, who are increasingly exposed to images of an ideal, ripped male body. Point out that pictures have been altered to make models look flawless and impossibly thin.

Expose kids to media that includes people of diverse backgrounds, appearances and qualities. Look for role models whose qualities will inspire your children.

And importantly project a healthy attitude towards your own body. This will also be enormously influential!

This article was originally published at Kidspot