Concerned that your children spend too much time “wired”? Research shows that the average youth (ages 8 – 18) spends 45 hours a week with media! That’s an intense relationship! Many parents talk to me about their concerns about worrisome media messages, especially those that promote unrealistic standards of beauty & perfection. These messages can harm both boys and girls, influencing expectations and self-esteem, discouraging healthy relationships with themselves and each other. It’s never too early – or too late – for parents and other adults to help children build their media IQ. One approach is to help kids and teens move beyond appearance to celebrate their whole selves. Here are some fun ways you can help your children celebrate their unique selves!
1. Move beyond appearance: When we listen to girls talk about their bodies, we often hear about dissatisfaction (or even hatred!) regarding their appearance. Helping girls and boys experience their bodies beyond appearance is an incredible gift. Back in my college days, I helped support myself by doing something I love – working with children. As a pre-school teacher I was always looking for ways to help kids discover cool things about what their bodies could do and, importantly, how to have fun in their bodies. A favorite activity involved walking with painted feet along a strip of butcher paper. Most of the three year olds got totally into it, deciding what color they’d like their footprints to be while squealing about the squishy, slippery feeling of walking in paint. Once dry, we mounted the butcher paper on the wall – or one inspired day, across the ceiling. Blue and red and yellow footprints traveled unexpected places and provided fodder for young imaginations. If you decide to try this – or some version of it – at home, consider writing down some of the stories your child tells about where these feet are going and why they are climbing up the wall.
2. Celebrate the 5 senses: Listening to life with all our senses adds to our appreciation of who we are – and helps us move beyond appearance. Take a “Listening Walk” in owl-light (the time between day and night when the light is soft and sounds are shifting). Walk with your ears tuned in – to birds, leaves rustling, dogs barking, music wafting from a nearby house. Compare notes with each other when you return home. Make sure there’s some paper and crayons or pens at the ready for anyone inspired to draw or write. Or, enjoy a “Mindful Eating” activity by tasting with eyes closed and taste & smell attuned. Yep, with eyes closed, each person can touch, smell, savor the surprise you’ve made available for this exercise. Sweet and sour jelly beans can be great fun – each player noticing the different places in their mouths that come alive when tasting sweet or sour. Try it too with raisins, dried cranberries, and dried cherries.
3. Read Stories and Poems that celebrate the uniqueness of each of us! The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss is about being our true selves and not getting caught up in following the crowd – a great message to help with media literacy at a young age. Check out the poetry books like Heartsongs by Mattie J.T. Stepanek for some inspiring poems about our bodies.
The Smell of Noise
By Mattie J. T. Stepanek
I smell something.
It smells like a noise.
Yes, that’s what it is.
It is a turtle noise,
And it is wonderful,
Live inside of seashells.
Would you like to
Live in a seashell?
It would smell like
A turtle noise, But I think
It would be wonderful!
For older kids: It’s just as important for older children to move beyond appearance and appreciate themselves for their strengths, courage, compassion and more. Older children also bring a greater capacity for awareness and analysis to the table. Enjoy these interesting activities with them.
1. Help raise media awareness and analytic skills with things like the“Branding Alphabet.”
For kids and teens who claim that they pay no attention to media messages so “it doesn’t affect me,” this can be a real eye opener. See how many of these letters your family members can associate with products. Kinda mind blowing, huh? You can search the web for other branding alphabets based on products from various generations.
2. Help Your Teen Tune Into Strengths: Conversations that focus on effort made, compassion, strengths, physical skills & pleasure are important. For the creative teen, a Pep Talk Poster provides a venue for celebrating the whole self. Colorful poster board or butcher paper can provide the backdrop for words (written or cut out from magazines), images, and personal photographs that communicate positive messages and reminders of just how valuable and treasured your teen is – not because they meet some impossible standard of appearance or perfection, but because their real self matters.
This season, move beyond appearance and into fun embodied living! If you can swing it, take a “media vacation” and see what happens! For an hour or a day, turn off the screens and the electronic sounds and tune into the environment and into your bodies’ messages about fun and health and relaxation. Make it a family thing.
Copyright © 2010
Originally published in the Pasadena Orange Cat Newsletter
Please note: Nothing in what you find here should be construed as medical advice pertinent to any individual. As is true with all written materials, and especially information found on the internet, you must be the judge of what appears valid and useful for yourself. Please take up any questions you might have regarding the content of this website with your psychotherapist or physician.