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Young children and teens are bombarded by messages from media every day. On television and billboards, it is a rarity to see a celebrity without a well-sculpted body and perfect skin. Middle school students, who are the usual victims of such ideals, end up laboriously aiming to look like the celebrities they admire. But what they fail to understand is that there is no such thing as perfect. Even the celebrities they admire have been air-brushed in most of the images they see. So how can you identify and help middle school students with negative body image? Here are some tips:
Catch them Doing Good Things
Students may begin to think negatively about themselves when they feel that they are not good enough in anything - academics, sports and arts. These students will ignore a positive comment, or stay anti-social because they do not feel capable of maintaining friends. They also end up becoming underachievers, in spite of an average IQ level from the test results. So how can you help them perform better? Recognize their achievements - even if they tend not to respond positively towards them. You may also give them a responsibility, such as a group leader, and give positive remarks to boost their self-esteem.
Create an Alliance with Parents and Health Professionals
Negative body image among middle school students can be a contributing factor for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. The desire to be thin and gaunt like the fashion models can incourage young students to do anything it takes to look just like them. You can easily identify teens that are suffering from such disorders by their physical appearance. A sudden drop in weight that is not caused by physical illness would signal a potential harmful problem. Set up an appointment with the parents and discuss your observations about their child. Seek a health professional’s help, if necessary, to remedy the condition immediately.
Classroom Activities that Uplift Student Morale
The desire to be physically attractive is a common thing for anyone who feels insecure and discontented about their looks. Some students can be very vocal in expressing their wish to be beautiful (even if you believe that they already are) or smart, or thin. Others, though, can be very private about their thoughts. These students tend to frequently look at themselves in the mirror, develop bad posture (slumping can also be a sign of feelings of insecurity) and give a longing look to the “more popular" students in class.
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Be very observant in how each student behaves in class. Try to detect the hidden messages in their manner of expressing their thoughts and opinions and do your best to develop healthy communication with each student in your class. Include inspiring stories, poems, and activities that will make them realize their worth. Share with them a poem by Virginia Satir, entitled My Declaration of Self-Esteem. Have a discussion about it and follow it with an activity to discover each other’s worth. Let them form a big circle of chairs or ask them to sit on the floor in a circle. Distribute a piece of paper to each student and ask him or her to write his or her name on top. Instruct them to think of appreciative and kind words to write or describe the person beside them. Pass the paper around so that they get to write to everyone in the room. Then, give them time to read the contents of their paper. Process the activity with simple reflective questions, asking them what they have learned and discovered about themselves.
It may also help to teach a lesson on media literacy. Make sure every student is aware of how tv commercials and advertisements may manipulate their viewers. What you see on tv, magazines and advertisements has been heavily edited and shown to us in a certain light, most often to get us to buy something.
By being observant and genuinely concerned about the development of each of your students in order to help them cope up with the changes they go through as adolescents. Team up with other teachers in planning and organizing activities that promote self-esteem and confidence among students. Involve the parents as well. Keep an open communication with them in discussing the achievements and difficulties that their children experience in school. With a good support team, middle school students can be well on their way to develop into confident and successful adults in the future.
Photo credits: WikiCommons
Satir, Virginia. My Declaration of Self-Esteem on KaliMunro.