Kids, Body Image and Technology
By Deirdre Cowman, Co-ordinator of Endangered Bodies Ireland
Technology is an amazing and sometime scary thing! It offers children opportunities for creativity, learning and fun but can also an impact on how they see themselves and their bodies. As parents, you want your children to enjoy all the exciting experiences that technology can offer and to grow up with a healthy relationship with their bodies. As today, February 5, is international safer internet day, you may hear and read a lot about various aspects of digital safety. One aspect of technology that doesn’t receive a lot of attention is the relationship between computer games and body image. Many parents are already aware of the need to make their home a body positive environment but struggle when it comes to staying on top of potential negative influences online and in games. More and more parents are concerned about how to help their children to feel comfortable in their skin in a digital world.
There have been a number of news stories lately which suggest that computer games in particular can have a negative impact on how young people feel about themselves. Firstly, body image experts have issued a warning in relation to the sexualised and unrealistic images of women’s bodies that are commonplace in many mainstream computer games. Secondly, recent research that suggests that playing appearance-related games has an impact on body dissatisfaction in pre-teen girls. Thirdly, the ongoing #SurgeryIsNotAGame campaign against cosmetic surgery games for kids has highlighted the toxic messages that these games give children about changing their bodies to meet societal expectations of beauty.
In light of these concerns, Endangered Bodies (a global campaign by body image activists) have put together a list of tips for parents on how to protect children’s body image in a digital world.
Play games together
Let your child show you what they are fascinated by within a game and enjoy them together. If anything dodgy comes up, you can explain what bothers you about it or why it isn’t appropriate. Ask how they think the characters are feeling and elicit conversations around empathy which can help them decide whether they want to choose games that involve stereotypes, violence, objectification, or an emphasis on appearance. Look for fun alternatives together.
Teach critical thinking skills
Critical thinking and media literacy are so important to children and young people growing up in the digital age. Help the children in your life to be critical of the media that they interact with by having conversations about who made it, why it was made, what is the message behind it and how the message makes them feel. In relation to body image, another important question to ask is how realistic are the images they see. Whether they are seeing bodies in the traditional media, social media or computer games, it is important to talk about whether the images are representative of real life.
Don’t be fooled by cartoon faces or cute characters
Many harmless looking games that feature knock-off versions of Disney Princesses, Barbies and other childhood favourites, have worrying or problematic messages. Have a look at the game description and give it a go yourself to find out more and see if it’s appropriate.
Use parental controls
Parental controls for apps stores like iTunes, Google Play and the Amazon app store, allow you to set the highest content rating that you want to allow for download or purchase on a device that your child has access to. However, you should be aware that the PEGI age rating system for games provides advice about suitability but the appropriateness of games is really down to parent discretion. For example, many of the cosmetic surgery games that Endangered Bodies is concerned about, have PEGI ratings of 3 or 7, meaning that they have been approved for children as young as 3 or 7 and so they would not necessarily be blocked by parental controls.
Read the reviews
Before downloading an app, scroll through the reviews to see what others are saying about it. Many apps have millions of downloads but very poor reviews.
Campaign for change
Find out more about our #SurgeryIsNotaGame petition (which now has almost 90,000 signatures!) and ask Apple, Amazon and Google to implement a policy to not accept any cosmetic surgery games in their apps stores that are targeted at children.
https://www.commonsensemedia.org/ Lots of great media literacy resources and helpful reviews
https://feministfrequency.com/video-series/ The ‘tropes vs women in video games’ series provides some helpful talking points on how bodies are represented in computer games
http://www.pegi.info/ie/index/id/678 The Pan European Game Information site includes tips and advice for parents on important topics like how to use parental controls on different devices