One out of three teens today are overweight or obese. This means that most parents reading this article know or have an overweight child of their own and are struggling with solutions on how to help them.
The first thing to you need to do immediately is drop the guilt! As parents, we are hard on ourselves. We blame our child’s weight issues on not being a good enough parent, that we are not creating the perfect environment for our kids, we are working long hours, eating out, buying school lunches and quick, processed snacks, etc. Combine all of that with our own conflicted feelings about our own weight and eating issues, including guilt, anger, fear and helplessness, and we don’t want to unload this on our children.
It’s best to start from a clean slate and approach the topic from the positive position of promoting health for your child—and the whole family. Remember, the topic of weight does not need to be taboo. Here are 5 tips to help you start a healthy dialogue with your teen about the situation.
How to Support Your Teen with a Weight Problem
1. Look for open doors—and don’t ignore them.
If a child confesses insecurity about their weight (like shopping for clothes or teasing at school) many parents’ first instinct is to comfort their child by telling him or her it’s not true: “You’re perfect!” A more helpful response would be: “If you really feel this way, we can do something about it.”
2. Stop worrying that you’re going to ruin your child’s self-esteem or give them an eating disorder by talking about food.
Research shows that eating disorders are more complicated, and the behavior is very different from that around obesity. If you’ve noticed your child is struggling with weight, they’ve probably already noticed the same thing. You’re not going to be sharing anything they don’t already know, and they may be relieved by taking an action-oriented plan approach rather than hearing judgmental comments when they eat too much.
3. Frame the conversation around healthy living. Weight is secondary to health.
This conversation is not about looks; it’s about being fit, healthy and active. Offer to make healthier foods available, remove unhealthy foods from your home and increase exercise as a family.
4. Make it a family conversation—don’t single anyone out.
Successful family eating campaigns involve the whole family, not just one child. As Tara Parker-Pope recently advised in her New York Times health column, the best way to solve a weight problem in a family is to hold everyone to the same standards. After all, a bag of chips is an unhealthy snack regardless of whether the eater is heavy or slim.
5. Find tools for success.
Explore weight management solutions designed especially for kids and teens. There are several successful university hospital-affiliated programs around the country. Ask your physician if there is one near you.
In addition, Kurbo Health has designed a fun and engaging mobile weight loss program empowering children and teens to take charge of their weight and improving their health. Remember, however, that adult food tracker apps and mobile programs such as MyFitnessPal and even Weight Watchers Online are not safe for use by kids under age 18 because they are based on calorie-counting, which is not advised for children or teens. You need to focus on solutions and programs built specifically around the unique needs of kids and teens.