There’s no one size fits all method when it comes to talking to your teen about their weight. Raising the subject of body image or weight with a teenager is a delicate affair. Most young adults between the age of 11 and 18 are experiencing puberty, natural weight gain, growth and other physical changes that already make them self-conscious to begin with. The last thing you want is to damage their body image by discussing their weight.
If you are concerned about your child’s health, however, you should say something. But how do you go about discussing this touchy subject? Here are a few ways you can begin to address the issue and help your teen develop a healthier lifestyle.
1. Emphasize Health, Not Weight
Above all, it’s crucial you focus on your teen’s health, not their weight. Emphasize your concern for their well-being rather than their appearance or body shape and size. Pointing out their extra pounds will only shame them and make them even more self-conscious and insecure. Rather, start by voicing your concern for their recent depressive state, lack of motivation, strange sleep schedule, loss of interest in healthy foods or whatever pertains to the situation.
Once you breach the topic with concern for their health, your teen will likely be more willing to discuss their emotions and personal life with you. You may find that their weight gain has been a result of stress, anxiety, depression or even a specific incident. Talking earnestly with your child will encourage them to be open and honest with their struggles — including weight gain — and make them more receptive to advice.
2. Discuss Goals and Interests
After bringing up your concern for your teen’s health, you can begin inquiring about their goals and interests. Do they want to lose weight, eat healthier, start exercising more or get stronger? Or do they want to look like slim Sarah from school? Defining realistic goals and expectations will be more helpful to your teen. And they’ll likely be happier if they realize early on that everyone has a different body type. They don’t have to be as thin or muscular as the high school football or cheerleading captain to be happy and healthy.
Work together to set realistic goals, then seek sustainable ways to accomplish them. Fad diets and extreme workout regimens aren’t tenable options in the long term and won’t support lasting change. Likewise, if your teen hates biking, but forces themself to hop on a stationary bike every day, they’ll absolutely dread going to the gym and likely soon give up. So, it’s important they find activities and foods they truly enjoy to create a sustainable, lasting routine.
3. Be the Change
Children grow to mimic their parents’ behavior so, naturally, if you lead an unhealthy lifestyle, your teen will likely do the same. On the other hand, if you eat healthily and exercise often, your teen will be more likely to follow suit. So, change ultimately begins with you. Work towards a healthy lifestyle and avoid making negative comments about yourself. This will send an important message about body image and acceptance, plus you’ll be healthier.
Committing yourself to a healthy routine might even encourage your teen to join you, especially if they see you having fun and enjoying making changes. Try new activities together like going to a yoga or spin class or simply get outside and share a walk in the park. Cook new healthy meals together that you’ll both enjoy and hold each other accountable. Sharing the journey to a healthier body and life will make it much more sustainable and less of a chore.
4. Focus On the Positives
Once you both get into the swing of things, celebrate each goal you reach, no matter how small. When you lose five pounds, celebrate. If you work out together for a month, celebrate. Focusing on the positives and the growth that you both make is much more encouraging than focusing on restricting foods, punishing yourselves by going to the gym or feeling guilty about indulging every once in a while. And celebrating milestones will motivate both of you to keep working toward a healthier lifestyle.
If your teen tends to focus on the negatives and is constantly obsessing over their weight or restricting their food intake in a dramatic, unhealthy fashion, talk to them about it. Ask them to define their goals again and teach them that food is fuel. There is no one bad food group. Fats, proteins and carbohydrates are just as important as fruits and vegetables and are part of a healthy diet. And remind them often that change — and weight loss — take time. Patience is key.
When to Say Nothing
Ultimately, deciding how to talk to your teen about their weight comes down to their personal situation, communication style and your relationship with them. Moreover, it comes down to deciding whether or not to say anything at all. If your teen isn’t obese and is completely content with their weight and the way they look, there might not be a reason to talk to them. Unless their weight is seriously taking a toll on their self-esteem, their health or negatively impacting their life in general, don’t mention it.
If their health is really affecting their life, you’ll notice. And, if you aren’t sure, start by making healthy life changes yourself. Inevitably, they’ll rub off onto your teen and you may never have to have a conversation at all.