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Sometimes I have difficulty identifying pronouns. What do all the 'they' and 'them' refer to? Do they all refer to children?

Children’s limited life experience and their level of intellectual development mean that the messages they receive about appearance are very powerful. Children often do not have the understanding or confidence to disregard the constant media pressure they receive to achieve a particular look. Parents can encourage their children, through their own example, to notice the relentless media pressure to look a certain way. The adults can begin discussions at home, whilst watching television with their children or looking through magazines, about the images they see all around them and the messages these convey about physical attractiveness. They need to foster a questioning, challenging approach to society’s rigid ideals of thinness and beauty. Through example, they can show children how to question and criticize the media images that are presented. This will moderate the effect of media pressure and help their children to become more critically aware of the messages they receive.

Body Image in the Primary School

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about the images they (the children (are watching, etc..)) see all around them (iow themselves) and the messages these convey about physical attractiveness. They (the parents are DOING to the children, carrying on this theme throughout the paragraph) need to foster a questioning, challenging...

  • That might help a little!
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Parents can encourage their children, through their own example, to notice the relentless media pressure to look a certain way. The adults can begin discussions at home, whilst watching television with their children or looking through magazines, about the images they see all around them and the messages these convey about physical attractiveness.

Both of these two pronouns refer to "their children." Look backwards to find the nearest nouns preceding the pronouns:

  • images. Nope, "images" is an object and "they" is the subject of this clause. Besides, "images" are for looking at—they don't themselves "see."
  • magazines. Still no good, for all the same reasons as above.
  • children. Here we go! ...maybe. The actual subject of this clause is "adults"—it is the adults who are watching television or looking through magazines. So while it would make sense logically for the two pronouns to refer to this "their children," it actually doesn't make sense grammatically. Instead we have to back all the way up to the sentence before: "Parents can encourage their children [...] to notice."

So the parents are encouraging their children to look at the images they see all around them.

They need to foster a questioning, challenging approach to society’s rigid ideals of thinness and beauty.

Here is a new sentence and it starts out with a pronoun right away. The most common referents for a pronoun that starts the sentence are the noun at the very end of the last sentence, or the noun at the very beginning of the last sentence.

  • physical attractiveness finishes the preceding sentence. This is a noun, but it's a singular noun (so there's a mismatch with They) and it doesn't really make sense for "attractiveness" to "need to foster [...] an approach."
  • The adults begins the preceding sentence. This makes sense! "The adults" can begin discussions at home, and "The adults" need to foster a questioning approach.

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