Parents should stop telling their children they are beautiful as this places too much emphasis on appearance, women's minister Jo Swinson has said.
The minister said parents could be storing up problems for later in their children's lives by sending a message that looks are the most important thing needed to succeed.
Ms Swinson, 33, who doesn't have kids, said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that praising children for skills such 'doing a jigsaw' or 'curiosity in asking questions' was more appropriate.
The Liberal Democrat minister was speaking ahead of the government's 'body confidence' campaign. This aims to raise awareness of the positive and negative portrayals of bodies in the media and find ways of building self-esteem among young people.
According to statistics quoted by the minister, one in four children aged 10 to 15 is unhappy about their appearance and 72 per cent of girls feel that too much attention is paid to the way female celebrities look.
"It's not like saying that appearance doesn't matter at all," said Ms Swinson.
"If you're going for an interview, you will dress smartly and look the part, that is absolutely fine, but it's just the level to which this becomes the ultimate focus of everything, where you have people who won't go to school unless they've put their make-up on, or won't leave the house unless they've spent two hours getting ready."
She told parents to watch what they say about their bodies in front of children.
"Maybe parents themselves have significant issues with body image," she said, referring to a television documentary.
"They [the parents] were telling the story of how they'd seen their bums in the mirror, and saying, 'does my bum look too big? I need to get rid of this tummy', and children copy, they learn."
She also had a message for fathers.
"Perhaps they can consider what they say about women in front of their daughters, how they're being judged and whether they're saying any inappropriate comments suggesting that women's value is in how they look," she said.
Young boys were also under pressure to look usually one of two ways; either buff and muscular or to get the 'Pete-Doherty' thin look, she said.
She said that to praise someone for their appearance wasn't 'bad in itself – we don't say you can't like someone else's dress' but urged parents to put comments about looks in their 'appropriate place'.
"Research shows that when children have no body confidence at school they're less likely to put their hand up in class and ask a question," she added.
"In extreme cases, you'll have people suffering from body dysmorphia, a psychiatric disorder, where people might not feel happy to go to school and you get truancy as a result of this. So it can have an impact on education, either in an extreme way or even in feeling less able to participate."
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