If you’re concerned that your teen is overweight or obese, how on earth do you bring it up?

Weight can be a really hard topic for parents to bring up with their kids. You don’t want to hurt their self-esteem or make them feel badly about themselves- especially during the teenage years, when confidence is so fragile to begin with. Some parents do comment on their teen’s weight directly, which can cause feelings of resentment, defiance, and guilt. Others try to soften the observances by couching them in a joking manner, which is unlikely to be helpful- see Teasing About Weight Hurts.

The best way to discuss weight with your teen is to focus on behaviors, not appearances. You may feel your teen weighs too much, but what do you think is contributing to that? Do they avoid exercise? Do they eat junk food? Do they spend a lot of time in front of the TV or the computer? Would they rather eat a cardboard box than have a few vegetables? Do they get too little sleep? (Less than 9 hours is too little.)

It’s a lot easier for anyone to hear “I’m worried because you’re not exercising, and eating a lot of fast food, and I’m worried about your health,” than “I’m worried because I think you’re overweight.” One comment focuses on what your teen is doing, and the other focuses on what they are.

If your teen sees nothing wrong with their weight or health or behaviors, you’re not going to get very far. Nobody can be pushed into change. Some teens are happy with their bodies, although they are few and far between. If your teen is one of them, trying to convince them to change their point of view is not going to do anything but create conflict. Give it a few months, and then explore the topic again.

Once you’ve brought up your concerns, the first step is a visit to your primary care provider. He or she can examine your teen, do some lab tests, and make sure there isn’t a medical, treatable reason for your teen’s weight, such as a thyroid problem. Most likely, they will clear your teen medically and encourage more activity and less junk food. They might even refer them to our Wellness Clinic, where we work with teens who have problems with excess weight.

More activity! Less junk food! We should all do that. It’s easy… right?

And then we try to fit exercise into an already packed day, and end up exhausted on the couch thinking, “Oh, it’s raining…. maybe tomorrow….”

We proudly avoid our favorite doughnuts, until the day when we’re really tired and hungry and a jelly doughnut looks absolutely perfect, and since we’re breaking our diet anyway and this is the only jelly doughnut we’re ever likely to have again, we end up eating four. Then we feel absurdly guilty and depressed about our “failure”.

Maybe it’s not so easy.

This next post will talk about how to introduce healthy behaviors into your teen’s life, without making them feel deprived or exhausted. (And take note, most of this works for adults as well.)

What questions do you have about weight loss in teens?