Kids today live in a media-saturated world. For parents, it’s nearly impossible to keep your child from being bombarded by billboards, commercials, social media posts and other types of advertisements.

Especially for young girls, advertising and social media can have a significant impact on their body image and body confidence. Images or stories about very thin or skinny women often dominate the media landscape — like models on Instagram who post about their “thigh gaps,” or interviews with slim celebrities who talk about needing to “lose weight” or “go on a diet.”

The prevalence of dieting in pre-teen and teenage girls
Health experts estimate that 40 percent of nine-year-old girls, 80 percent of 10-year-old girls and 60 percent of high school girls have dieted. Children and teenagers are at the highest risk for developing psychological or physical problems related to body image, such as an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder.

Research shows that the younger a girl is when she starts dieting, the greater likelihood that she will use extreme measures to control her weight, like by vomiting, restricting food or using diuretics. By the time a woman who started dieting at a young age turns 30, she’s more likely to have abused drugs and alcohol — and, strangely enough, to be overweight.

What parents can do about young girls and dieting
As a parent, the research and statistics about young girls and dieting can be very disturbing. If your pre-teen or teenage daughter has mentioned or even tried dieting, it can be hard for parents to know what to do. However, don’t ignore it or assume that dieting is just a “phase.” There are steps parents can take to help their preteen or teenage daughter develop strong self esteem and a healthy body image.

Here are some ways to help your daughter adopt healthy eating habits and feel good about themselves without dieting:

  1. Encourage her to participate in physical activities she enjoys — Your daughter might want to join a school sports team, or would rather do some other type of activity, like yoga, hiking, snowboarding or dancing.

  2. Shop for groceries together and cook fresh foods — Having your daughter learn how to prepare food and enjoy cooking will go a long way in developing healthy eating habits. Try new recipes as a family and let your daughter decide what you’re making for dinner that night.

  3. Make healthy eating a family affair — Eliminate added sugars, refined carbohydrates and processed foods from your pantry. Focus on nutrition, not cutting calories.

  4. Limit and monitor time spent on social media — Adolescents can be very susceptible to what they see on social media. Spending hours on Facebook, Instagram or other social media platforms can actually increase a pre-teen or teen girl’s risk of developing a poor body image or an eating disorder.

  5. Never criticize your daughter’s body or appearance — Negative comments about how your daughter looks can really sting and make her self-conscious about her appearance. Instead, place a strong emphasis on your daughter’s accomplishments and make positive comments about things she does well, not how she looks.

As a parent, you play a crucial role in helping your daughter boost her self-esteem, feel confident and feel good physically, mentally and emotionally. Taking steps now to prevent dieting can have a big impact on your daughter’s health long-term.