Between battles over cell phone privileges, curfews, and household chores, talking with teenagers can be treacherous. However, when it comes to emotionally charged issues like weight and body image, the stakes are higher.
With 18 percent of American adolescents qualifying as obese, triple the rate of 30 years ago, according to the US Centers for Disease Control, many parents are grasping for ways to express their concerns without fracturing their teens’ self esteem.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota suggest in the new Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior that parents model a healthy lifestyle through their own behavior and focus discussions around “healthful eating”and “being fit” rather than pushing for weight loss.
That’s a tall order for a nation that the CDC estimates has a 35 percent adult obesity rate.
So how can parents struggling with their own weight and lifestyle choices model a healthy lifestyle for their kids?
What about families with teenagers that would rather go to school naked than be seen in public with their parents? Exploring autonomy is a big part of adolescence.
That means spending much of the time away from the house and parental supervision. Even at home, many teens isolate themselves from the rest of the family behind slammed bedroom doors, headphones, and electronic devices.
Despite all that insulation, teens are still watching their parents, especially if they perceive some level of hypocritical discrepancy between what parents practice and preach.
Teens see not only what parents eat, but how they eat. If parents keep a secret stash of chocolates, treat stress with food, or scarf down fast food on the go, chances are their kids know.
Likewise, teens notice if parents obsess about their own weight, exercise, or calorie intake. They may adopt similar behaviors openly or in private.
Parents struggling with their own food issues may find that acknowledging them to their teen could be helpful for both parent and child. Admitting fallibility can go along way in connecting with teenagers, and lets them know that the subject is open for conversation.
Parents can find other strategic ways to set the stage for teens to make healthy choices. Prominently displaying whole food snacks such as fresh fruit, nuts, and seeds makes healthy snacking easy. Getting rid of the 9-inch dinner plates encourages sensible portions.
Families might consider adding a nutritional reference book to the kitchen library. Many include nutritional information for many fast food and chain restaurants as well. Awareness can be a powerful tool for both adults and teenagers.
Parents should remember that their teens are keenly aware of their activity and exercise habits as well. They absorb an unintentional message when they watch their parents drive around the block several times to find the closest parking spot, or opt to spend a sunny day inside on the couch.
Even though it may seem like teens barely notice their parents, chances are they are watching more than parents may be aware. Even while rolling their eyes.
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