Jokes and teasing are common in most close family relationships, but when they hit a nerve they can cause low self-esteem. We’ve put together a common-sense checklist to help you keep the family comedians under control and stop young people feeling picked on.
Casual comments can cause profound problems
Joking and teasing probably aren’t top of your list of family issues. But as your child becomes a teenager they will naturally become more sensitive to comments about the way they look. And family members may not realise the impact of their words.
“Hasn’t so-and-so filled out?”
“Soon you’ll be bigger than your mum!”
“Oh, that puppy fat is so cute.”
“Don’t you think you should start watching what you eat?”
Sound familiar? Even playful teasing from loved ones about appearance can have a deep impact, damaging young people's confidence long term.
Even playful words can be hurtful
“Young people who experience criticism or teasing about their appearance from family members are more likely to try to control their weight and eat in an unhealthy way, be dissatisfied with their body, compare themselves with friends, obsess over their looks, have lower self-esteem and more depression than those who aren’t teased,” says Dr Phillippa Diedrichs of the Centre for Appearance Research.
On the flipside, supportive and warm family dynamics have a positive effect on young people's body image and body satisfaction. So what’s the best way to handle the situation?
Taking action on family banter
Coming up with coping strategies for your child to use when faced with family teasing is the first step. It may be as simple as ignoring unhelpful comments, or something more overt like confronting the person making the remarks to let them know how it feels when they tease.
Carol, mum to 12-year-old Isobel, went for the simple approach when family members began teasing Isobel for being skinny and saying she should eat more. “I assured them that she does eat but that she is the size she is, and teasing her is not going to help,” says Carol. “Then I talked to Isobel, saying that she shouldn’t take those comments to heart. I reassured her that as long as she is happy and healthy that’s all that matters.”
By acknowledging the hurtfulness of appearance-related teasing, actively discouraging it and helping your child develop techniques to deal with it, you will be nurturing and protecting their positive body confidence.
Use our action checklist to get your family to cut out the banter and give your son or daughter the support they need.
To protect privacy we’ve changed the names of people whose stories we tell on these pages, but their stories are genuine.