Deciding how to approach a weight or body image issues deserves careful attention when it involves young people. How you handle the topic can have serious and lifelong implications.
7 tips for helping your teen with weight or body image issues:
1. Make changes for the whole family. If you want your kids to eat healthier and exercise, you need to choose healthy foods and participate with them in fun exercise. Seeing you modeling healthy behaviors is the most important influence for your kids. A big pronouncement isn’t needed; kids may not even notice you’re making the change, adjusting quickly to the “new normal.”
2. Control your tone. Don’t bribe, punish or criticize your teen about their weight. The results can be disastrous, especially if a child uses food to control their environment. Kids who feel bad about weight are more likely to develop an eating disorder, whether it’s over-eating, under-eating or binging and purging.
3. Be a united front. As with any important issue, make sure both parents, and other important relatives, are in agreement. Mixed messages about weight can have unhealthy consequences.
4. Talk with your doctor. Make sure your concerns are valid, and seek your doctor’s support on ways to help your teen get healthy.
5. Seek extra help. Sudden weight loss or gain may be symptoms of emotional issues including stress and depression. If you suspect these underlying causes are at play, talk to your school counselor or you may want to seek professional counseling for your child., particularly when bullying is involved.
6. Focus on the big picture. The key is health, not weight. Try to compliment your child on his or her talents and accomplishments instead of their appearance. Also on their good choices, “That was a good choice in a snack.”
7. Monitor media consumption. The model-thin or muscular physiques your teens see in the media need to be balanced with reality. According to a study by Children’s Hospital Boston, teens who try to look like models they see in fashion and health magazines were more likely to use potentially harmful substances more regularly than their peers, including weight loss drinks, protein powders and shakes, growth hormone and even steroids.
Body image and self image go hand-in-hand, particularly for adolescents, so be very careful how you approach this subject. For additional tips, see articles at YouthEastsideServices.org. If you are concerned your child may have an eating disorder, check out the Moore Center for Eating Disorders for common signs or Seattle Children's.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to be strong, supportive and loving. While YES accepts insurance, Medicaid and offers a sliding scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay. For more information, visit YouthEastsideServices.org.