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Focus Column: Teaching Children to Respect their Bodies

May 1, 2007 by Kylie Turley

Raising children to respect their bodies can be difficult, especially with the distorted body images we are often presented with today. How can we teach our children to understand their bodies in a healthy way, in a spiritual way, in a godlike way?

—Kylie Turley, Focus Editor

This year, more than ever in my seventy years, I have searched the depths of my soul and pondered the scriptures in relation to abuse of the mortal body. Two of my family members suffer from debilitating conditions, one from anorexia and the other from alcoholism. I love them and, when they suffer, I hurt with them. I believe they have misunderstood the God-given gift of their mortal body and its relationship to their immortal spirit. “The spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15). The spirit and body are inseparably connected. When we harm our bodies, we are injuring our spirits. A few years ago, my family members appeared to be physically vigorous and in control of their mortal bodies. But slow choices over years took these two bright, promising individuals to the point where they have strained family relationships, have lost good occupations, and are spending months in treatment.

Jesus Christ came to this earth to take upon himself a body so that he might experience every temptation and obstacle that we experience: “. . . and he [Jesus Christ] will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy . . . according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). Jesus had a body, and He experienced more bodily temptations than any other mortal will ever know. No matter what abuse we have subjected our bodies to, if we will give away our follies to Him, He can heal our spirits and consequently our immortal souls.

Daily I pray for the Holy Spirit to enlighten the spirits of my loved ones so they will understand how to regain their agency and properly use it to heal their mortal bodies. I know that my Savior understands and can help those who earnestly seek His aid. This gives me faith and trust that I, too, can recover from my fear, sadness, and worry. He can help these loved ones to heal and can also help me to have peace, if I turn my will over to Him.

—Ann J. Kearns, Utah

  • Learn to respect our own bodies because our examples speak louder than anything we say. Until we do, make sure we at least don’t vocalize our criticisms of our bodies or others’ bodies.
  • Be active with our children: dancing, running, skipping, swinging, climbing trees, and hanging from jungle gyms.
  • Don’t buy or keep in our homes women’s fashion magazines; they create unrealistic expectations with computer-enhanced images and altering.
  • Make sure to have materials for creative, active play, and exposure to positive role models.
  • Tell our children often how beautiful they are. How else will they know?
  • Also tell them often how kind, creative, talented, smart, and loveable they are, so that they will know that they are valued for more than their appearance.
  • Explain that when we cover our bodies, it is for modesty, not shame; we cover our bodies to protect what is precious, not to hide.
  • Talk to them often—praise often and criticize seldom so they will come to us when they need reassurance and explanations.
  • Talk candidly and respectfully about sex in response to their questions, with age-appropriate detail.
  • Talk about sexual abuse; tell them that no one has the right to see or touch them except a doctor, no matter what anyone says.
  • If a child has already experienced sexual abuse, he or she should see a professional therapist to overcome possible feelings of shame and guilt.
  • Re-evaluate your spiritual beliefs: Do they include the idea that the body is inferior to the spirit and a source of sin? If so, seek sources that celebrate the body as a creation of God that is after God’s own image.

—Ardell Broadbent, Colorado

I recently read the book 10 Conversations That You Need to Have With Your Children by Shmuley Boteach. One of the conversations is to ask your children who they want to be when they grow up, not what they want to be. I loved the “who” question. Your children will think ahead to who they want to be in five years, or ten, or whatever—not what they want to look like. No child wants to look ahead to the negative, and each choice will land them somewhere.

—Janet Semons, Idaho

I took a walk today. It was a cold gray day. The sky was all clouds, and I could smell winter so much it burned my nose. I thought about my recent visiting teaching experience with Doris. The lesson was on service, and Doris told us about her water aerobics class in Salt Lake. She said it was such a good group of sisters—they all helped each other and were supportive of each other, and their instructor knew them all and gave them personal instruction for their individual weaknesses. I was watching Doris’s face, and I realized she smiled a lot. I know she has lots of health problems, but I never saw her as a brave person until I realized she has a gentle, cheerful attitude. So I was walking today and feeling the cold, which has been a bother because the babies are sick, and I have to wrap them up so well and carefully, but then I saw in the gray sky, way off in the South, three streaks of gray clouds against the cloudy sky. You could see the clouds because there were different shades of gray in the gradient. There was also silver and blue. It’s hard to describe, but as I looked at it and the tiny thought came creeping into my head that it was beautiful, a rush of inspiration came that I need to look at people like that. Sometimes when it’s cold and gray out, you feel glum and things are blah. But if you try, you can find something beautiful. Sometimes people seem old and gray, or not interesting or not healthy, but if I look at them with sharper eyes, I will see the beauty, even the beauty in a water aerobics class of elderly women.

—Natalia Brown, Montana

To me, being honest in all our dealings extends to our parenting—we need to teach proper terminology and sound explanations of bodily functions right from the start. We can be age-appropriate, but fear or misunderstanding can breed contempt and disregard.

From a young age my husband and I teach modesty. When questions or issues arise (and they do) they are addressed one by one in family home evening. FAMILY HOME EVENING! So many of us are creative enough to come up with cute lesson ideas or games, but I think we can use FHE even more—we can address the real issues right from the start in a safe family environment. Besides teaching our children what is appropriate about their bodies, we feel that we should limit media exposure, especially for our daughters. Media is often not very “girl friendly.” Even movies that are “you go girl” in their theme can be subtly demeaning. For example, though the heroine is smart and resourceful, she often has to change physically to “win.” I understand that movies/TV are visual art forms, and they cannot easily show personal growth, but small kids (and grown women) have seeds planted that are hard to overcome. Even in family gatherings, we have had to guard our girls against misplaced comments from people. It is really hard and sometimes socially awkward. I know how damaging such comments can be because I sometimes find myself repeating them in my mind. Strong, self- confident women come in all shapes and sizes. Healthy eating and exercise are part of our gospel, but body shape is not.

—Heidi Egan, New York


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