Part 1 – How Can I Talk With My Teen About Weight Issues?


By Kathy Sena

as it appears in Ohio Family magazine, April 2013 issue

Are you concerned about your teen’s weight? Are you hitting a brick wall when trying to discuss weight, fitness and health issues with your son or daughter? You’re not alone. Many parents report that this is a particularly tough, and often emotional, subject for parents and teens to discuss. So we’ve asked the experts for tips on broaching this important subject with your child.


Teens are certainly not alone in their less-than-desirable reactions to the topic of weight, says Steven Crawford, MD, associate medical director of The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Consider how you, even as an adult, might react if someone – maybe even your own child – commented on your recent weight gain or pointed out that your exercise and eating habits were really unhealthy,” says Crawford. It’s a sensitive topic for a lot of reasons, but more and more because of the intensity with which our culture, and the media, has placed a focus on weight and connected it to individual self-worth and social status, he adds. “These are, developmentally, very sensitive topics for teens, so some resistance is to be expected.”

Weight is often a tricky subject for moms and daughters, especially, because moms tend to bring their “body baggage” to the conversation, says Dara Chadwick, a journalist and author of You’d Be So Pretty If…: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies – Even When We Don’t Love Our Own (Da Capo Lifelong Books) “For example, if mom was heavy as a child and found that to be a painful experience, she may want to “spare” her daughter from going through what she went through and may take a heavy-handed or critical approach to talking with her daughter about weight or eating,” says Chadwick.

“Or, if mom works very hard to stay slim, she may feel that an overweight daughter is somehow a reflection on her as a mother,” Chadwick says. “Daughters ten to shut down when they feel they’re being lectured, or when it’s a “do as I say, not as I do” situation. In other words, mom or dad tells the daughter to go out and play, or get some exercise, from his or her perch on the couch.”

“Stay alert for natural opportunities to discuss healthy living,” says Chadwick. “While you’re in the kitchen together preparing dinner, while you’re taking a walk after dinner, while you’re watching a television show that makes fun of weight or features an actor who’s incredibly thin. Using moments like this helps take the focus off the daughter herself. Instead, it’s a more global discussion, which tends to feel safer.”

Watch the humor. “I’ll admit I’ve made jokes about my size in the past. But those jokes can hurt just as much as criticism,” says Chadwick. “Don’t make your butt the “butt” of every joke. And think twice before joking about your teen’s body or appearance in any way.” Teens are notoriously sensitive and an off-hand joke about clothes, hair, or weight can sting more than adults may realize.

“Never yell, bribe, threaten or punish your child about weight, food, or physical activity. It you turn these issues into parent-child battlegrounds, the results can be disastrous,” says Dayle Hayes, MS., RD, a registered dietitician in Billings, Montana. “Shame, blame and anger are set-ups for failure. The worse children feel about weight, the more likely they are to overeat or develop an eating disorder.”


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