Thursday, February 5, 2015

"Its For Your Own Good"

When my brother was in high school, he was "invited" to join the "chub club." Trust me this was not some sort of exclusive, invitation only, you must be so cool, club. This was a "we think you're fat" and need some help kind of club. The problem is that being singled out so publicly by your school was beyond humiliating, and showed a complete lack of understanding about the heightened self-consciousness of Adolescence. I thought this was a thing of the past. But this story I read today, shows that evidently this is not the case. Read and then we'll talk.

We are a weight-conscious culture. The good news is that we are trying to focus on being healthy, rather than on being thin, and we know that being overweight can cause a myriad of health problems. Getting our kids to understand that difference is a good goal. Communicating that message, especially to teens is a complicated one. As you know, having gone through your own bout of puberty, a teen may feel that their body is growing in ways that are completely out of their control. They see friends who grow long and lean while their body seems to do the opposite. They see friends able to eat their weight in junk food, not gaining an ounce, while a single chip sends their  weight soaring. Then to top it all off they have parents who may say things like: "Do you think you should be eating that?" Or "Haven't you had enough?' Further illustrating that they must be fat losers!

Talking about weight with your teen is really hard. Unless they are a super-confident kid and their weight causes them no issues, your teen probably feels worse and more worried than you are about their weight. It might be especially hard for them if you are a healthy eater, fitness buff, and look amazing. Knowing that your mom is "hotter" than you, or your dad is "ripped" and more fit than you can be a competition they feel they can't win.

So what do you do if you have a teen whose weight you can see is making them feel like sh*t? Maybe you see them hiding themselves in oversized clothes, or choosing to wear clothes their friends are wearing even if they are completely unflattering to their bodies. Maybe there is a tantrum every time they leave the house, with every bit of clothing on their bedroom floor, discarded because it makes them look "fat." You, standing on the other side of the door, knowing that if they just exercised more,  ate less, and ate healthier, could avoid this drama filled daily event.

Well, one thing you shouldn't do is to say those things out loud to your teen. Those kinds of lecturing comments tend to drive teens to do the opposite of what you are suggesting; eat more and eat bad!
What we can say is " I get how hard this weight thing is for you. It doesn't seem fair to see friends not have to deal with this issue at all, eating all they want, and still staying thin. It is so unfortunate that your genes don't work that way."

It's important to take the blame off your teen, you don't want to put them on the defensive. Give them an opportunity to give voice to their real feelings about this issue. Many kids who have a weight problem are uncomfortable doing exercise in public. They feel like people are looking at them and judging their weight, their ability. Maybe their face turns bright red when they exert themselves and they are embarrassed about that. (I sometimes love doing exercise programs on demand on my TV in the privacy of my own home!)Try asking them about that. "Tell me some things you don't like about exercising, and let's see what we can figure out would work for you" rather than, "if you just exercised more, you would feel better about yourself."

Trust me, no teen wants to have a weight issue. But it feels so hard for them to turn it around. Obviously, make sure you have healthy choices in your home. Having tubs of ice cream in the freezer, bottles of soda or fruit juice, chips and snacks, and cookies are just too tempting.

This is a tricky and emotionally laden issue for parents to navigate with their teens. They feel your judgement and disappointment, and their own self-consciousness with their peers. It's a double whammy. Help them to understand and appreciate their own uniqueness and help them to develop strategies that work for them.

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